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From tin- original painted for Sir Wm. Hamilton liy Leonardo Guzzardi, 
and presented to the Admiralty by the Hon. Robt. Kulke Greville in 184& 









I909 Q. 
















WITH one exception the essays here collected 
have appeared previously at different times 
during the last few years in various serial publications. 
I have to thank the conductors of The Times, The 
Quarterly Review, The Naval Annual, The United 
Service Magazine, and The National Review for per- 
mission to reprint them. I should add that I do not 
claim the authorship of the first paper in the volume. 
It originally appeared in The Times as a leading 
article on the hundredth anniversary of Trafalgar, and 
it so well represents the spirit in which, as I think, 
Englishmen should celebrate an anniversary of the 
kind that I have obtained the permission of the 
conductors of The Times to reprint it as a fitting 
introduction to a volume which deals so largely with 
Nelson and his crowning victory at Trafalgar. 

The exception is the essay on Paul Jones. This 
has been written specially for the present volume. 
It is at once a duty and a pleasure to acknowledge 
that it is very largely based on what is now the 
standard American biography of Paul Jones by Mr. 
A. C. Buell. Readers of Mr. Buell's work will per- 
ceive at once how deeply my own essay is indebted 
to it at almost every point. I have however con- 
sulted other authorities, more especially a biography 
published in 1825, and written, as I am assured by 
my friend Mr. John Murray, by no less famous a 
person than Benjamin Disraeli, afterwards Earl of 
Beaconsfield. The volume is anonymous, and it is 
now, I believe, very rare. Probably it was never 


well known, nor was its authorship ever avowed in 
Disraeli's lifetime. But on the authority of Mr. 
Murray I attribute it with confidence to Disraeli, if 
not as the writer of every word, at any rate as the 
responsible and largely contributory editor. I have 
quoted several passages from it. My readers will 
judge for themselves how far these passages betray 
the authorship I have claimed for them. 

Disraeli is the only English biographer of Paul 
Jones known to me who has attempted to do him 
justice. He evidently felt for him a certain affinity 
of temperament, a certain sympathy of soul. His 
youthful motto, "Adventures are to the adventurous," 
would have been as congenial to Paul Jones as it 
was to himself. When he says of him, " that to per- 
form extraordinary actions, a man must often entertain 
extraordinary sentiments, and that in the busiest 
scenes of human life, enthusiasm is not always vain, 
nor romance always a fable," he is anticipating a vein 
of reflection with which Englishmen were afterwards 
to be made very familiar in the character and career of 
the statesman who made Queen Victoria an Empress 
and realized the dreams of his own " Tancred " by 
annexing Cyprus to her dominions. 

It is because Paul Jones has been so often misjudged 
in this country that I too have sought to bespeak for 
him a rehearing of the whole case. I may have 
mistaken his character. It may have been as " detest- 
able " as Sir John Laugh ton says it was. But his 
acts speak for themselves. The man who founded 
the American Navy and showed it how to fight ; who 
set before it the high standard of conduct, attainment, 
and efficiency which still inspires it ; who propounded 
views of naval warfare and its conduct which antici- 
pated the teaching of Clerk of Eldin in the eighteenth 
century, and that of Captain Mahan in our own days, 
and were conceived in the very spirit of Nelson 
himself; who baffled all the diplomacy of England 
at the Texel, and alone achieved a diplomatic triumph 


of which even Franklin had despaired, is certainly 
not a man to be dismissed from the court of history 
as a mere adventurer, a person of no importance, even 
if he cannot leave it without a stain upon his character. 
I would hardly go so far as Disraeli and say, " As 
to his moral conduct, it would seem that few characters 
have been more subject to scrutiny and less to con- 
demnation." I do not take Paul Jones to have been 
a Galahad or even a Lancelot. But whatever his 
moral delinquencies may have been, I have discovered 
none to make me ashamed of avowing a profound 
admiration for his extraordinary gifts and astonishing 

The papers on " Trafalgar and the Nelson Touch " 
were written in 1905, and published in The Times 
during the early autumn of that year. I had previously 
enjoyed an opportunity of talking the matter over 
with Colonel Desbriere, of the French General Staff, 
the distinguished author of a monumental work, well 
known to all students of the subject, entitled Projets 
et tentatives de debarquement aux lies Britanniques, 
1793-1805. But I found that at the time of my visit 
to Colonel Desbriere at the French War Office he 
had not completed those studies and researches which 
have since borne such abundant fruit in his supple- 
mentary volume, entitled Trafalgar, which was only 
published in 1907. This will explain why no mention 
was made of Colonel Desbriere's work in my articles 
as they originally appeared. The importance of his 
researches and of the conclusions he has drawn from 
them lies not merely in his profound acquaintance with 
the whole subject, and the singularly acute and 
detached judgment he has brought to its discussion, 
but in the fact that he alone has had access to all 
the documents bearing on the subject which are 
preserved in the French and Spanish archives, the 
most important of them being printed in his volume 
for the first time. It is for this reason extremely 
gratifying to me to find that working on lines in 


no sense suggested by myself — for the very slight 
assistance I was able to afford him in his study 
of the subject is more than generously acknowledged 
in his preface — and on materials entirely inaccessible 
to me, he has reached conclusions so closely akin 
to my own. He and I have reached our respective 
conclusions by different and independent paths. 
But how closely those conclusions coincide may be 
seen from the following sentences which I quote from 
his final chapter : 

Quant au dispositif d'attaque des Anglais, il semble 
demontre qu'il differa tout a fait des deux colonnes 
generalement admises. Pour la division du Sud, 
celle de Collingwood, aucun doute ne peut subsister 
et Fengagement sur tout le front des allies prouve 
bien que l'ordre de former la ligne de relevement 
fut execute. Pour la division du Nord, celle de 
Nelson, la ligne de file se transforma au moment 
de l'engagement en un ordre semi-deploye sur un 
front de quatre ou cinq vaisseaux. L'amiral attaqua 
bien le premier mais il fut immediatement soutenu a 
sa droite et a sa gauche. 

There are a few points of detail concerning which I 
am more or less at variance with Colonel Desbriere, 
but they are none of them of primary importance, and 
there are others in respect of which his analysis corro- 
borates mine in a very remarkable manner. These I 
have duly indicated in the notes appended at their 
proper place in the present volume. I would here 
add that the most striking corroboration of all is that 
furnished by three pictorial diagrams, representing 
three successive stages of the battle, which are pre- 
served in the archives of the Captain-General at Cadiz, 
and are reproduced in black-and-white facsimile by 
Colonel Desbriere. Coloured facsimiles of these dia- 
grams were presented in 1907 by the Spanish Govern- 
ment to the British Admiralty, and now hang in the 
room of the Permanent Secretary of the Admiralty. 
I am informed that the original drawings were made 


by the Chief of the Staff of the Spanish Admiral 
Gravina, who commanded the rear of the allied line, 
his flag flying in the Principe dAsturias. The first 
of these diagrams represents the moment when 
Collingwood, in the Royal Sovereign, had just broken 
the allied line astern of the Santa Ana, and the 
remaining ships of his line were about to follow his 
example. But they are not shown in the diagram as 
ranged in a line astern of the Royal Sovereign, and 
therefore perpendicular to the enemy's line. That is 
the traditional representation in this country, but it 
finds no countenance whatever from the diagram 
prepared by Gravina's Chief of the Staff. The rear 
ships of Collingwood's line are shown in a position 
which runs in a direction approximately parallel to 
the rear of the allied line, and all engaged simultane- 
ously. There may be some pictorial exaggeration in 
this, though it may be noted that the Swiftsure 
recorded in her log " At half-past noon, the whole 
fleet in action, and Royal Sovereign had cut through 
the enemy's line " ; but, in any case, the draughts- 
man, from his position on board the Principe dAsturias, 
must certainly have known as well as any one whether 
the line of the attacking fleet was perpendicular or 
parallel to that of the allied rear during the first 
phase of the onslaught. He represents it as parallel, 
or nearly so ; and his testimony on this point seems to 
me well-nigh conclusive in itself, and at any rate quite 
incontrovertible when taken in connection with all 
the other evidence to the same effect. As to the 
character of Nelson's attack his testimony is of course 
far less weighty, because his position in the line was 
far removed from that of the Bucentaure and the ships 
ahead of her. But it is worthy of note that he repre- 
sents the Victory and two ships astern of her firing 
their port broadsides, as I have shown they must have 
done when they first opened fire, and steering direct 
for a gap in the allied line between the Bucentaure 
and the Redoutable. No other ships in Nelson's 


column are shown as having opened fire at this period 
of the action. A reproduction of this diagram will be 
found at page 68. 

I have to thank the authorities of the Admiralty 
for their kindness in allowing me to reproduce, I 
believe for the first time, and to use as a frontispiece 
to this volume, the very remarkable portrait of Nelson 
which hangs in the Board Room at the Admiralty. 
This portrait was painted at Palermo in 1799 by 
Leonardo Guzzardi. It is not one of the more 
attractive portraits of Nelson, but, as I have explained 
on page 96, it has a special significance in the evidence 
it seems to afford as to Nelson's state of health and 
of mind at this critical period of his career. My 
best thanks are also due to the Earl of Camperdown 
for his permission to reproduce, at page 133, the beau- 
tiful portrait of his illustrious ancestor by Hoppner, 
which stands as the frontispiece of his valuable 
biography of that great seaman. 

My readers will bear in mind that the essays 
collected in this volume were originally written at 
different dates, some of them several years ago. They 
are all of them, therefore, necessarily affected by the 
" psychological atmosphere " which prevailed when 
they were written. I have so far revised them as to 
correct statistics and other statements of fact which 
the lapse of time has rendered obsolete, and even this 
has proved to be far from easy in the case of an 
essay like that on " The Strategy of Position," where I 
have attempted not, I fear, with entire success, to 
describe the strategic disposition of the Fleet which 
was initiated at the end of 1904 in terms of the 
kaleidoscopic developments of more recent years. But 
I have not otherwise attempted to modify the psycho- 
logical atmosphere of their original date. That would 
have been quite impossible without rewriting them alto- 
gether. This remark applies especially to the lecture 
on "The Higher Policy of Defence" with which the 
volume concludes. It now has to reappear in a 


psychological atmosphere very different from that in 
which it was originally written. For this reason, were 
I to deliver another lecture on the same subject to- 
day, I daresay I should express myself very differently 
as regards the order, stress, and application of the 
arguments employed. Nevertheless, I remain a con- 
vinced and wholly unrepentant adherent of the 
doctrines I enunciated in 1902. They were not my 
doctrines. I was merely the unworthy mouthpiece of 
the lessons I learnt many years ago at the feet of the 
late Admiral Colomb and of other naval officers, most 
of whom are happily still living, who were associated 
with him in his life-long endeavour to bring back to 
his countrymen a renewed sense of the things which 
belong to their peace. Even the title which I gave to 
the lecture, " The Higher Policy of Defence," was not 
of my own invention. It was, I believe, first employed, 
many years ago, by my friend Sir George Clarke, the 
present Governor of Bombay, with whom it was my 
high privilege to be associated, in 1897, * n the publica- 
tion of a volume of collected essays, entitled The 
Navy and the Nation. If I have any claim to speak 
with authority on the matters I have discussed in 
this present volume, I should certainly base it myself 
mainly on the fact that Sir George Clarke did not 
disdain twelve years ago to link his name with mine 
in the publication of a former volume, which has 
assuredly owed whatever influence it has exercised 
far more to his contributions than to mine. That 
volume was saturated from its first page to its last 
with the higher policy of defence. In the preface 
which Sir George Clarke and I drafted together — 
though it is only right to say now that its composition 
was mainly the work of his pen — we wrote : 

That the sea communications of the Empire must 
be held in war; that if they are so held, territorial 
security against serious attack both at home and 
abroad is, ipso facto, provided ; that if they are not 
so held, no army of any assigned magnitude, and 


no fortifications of any imagined technical perfection, 
can avert national ruin ; these are the cardinal 
principles of Imperial Defence. 

Yet these cardinal principles are now once more 
being impugned on the highest military authority — 
that of the great soldier whose long and brilliant 
career, whose lofty and disinterested patriotism, whose 
splendid achievements in India and South Africa, have 
endeared him to every Englishman, and have invested 
him with a right to speak on all questions of national 
defence which no one would presume to dispute, 
least of all a mere civilian student like myself. I have 
said, " on all questions of national defence." But the 
fact remains that, for an insular Power like England 
— a Power which can neither attack its enemies nor 
be attacked by them except across the sea — no 
question of national defence can ever be either a 
purely military question or a purely naval question. 
Lord Roberts is a soldier; one of the greatest of 
living soldiers. On the military issues involved in 
any large question of national defence, I, for one, 
should never dream of disputing his authority ; but 
on the naval issues involved in the same question, I 
would point out, with all respect, that, apart from his 
immense personal prestige, his authority is not in 
kind greater than that of any other amateur student 
of the subject. He is not an expert in the theory 
and practice of naval warfare any more than I am 
myself. In that respect he and I stand on the same 
footing, if I may say so without presumption, and 
on that ground alone do I venture to dispute some 
of the premisses he has lately advanced in respect 
of the naval aspects of the question of invasion. 

Now I understand the school of which Lord Roberts 
is the illustrious leader to contend that we cannot rely 
on naval force alone, however superior to that of 
the supposed enemy, to prevent an invader landing 
on these shores in such force as, in the present 
condition of our military defences, might afford the 

preface xv 

enemy a reasonable prospect of bringing us to sub- 
mission. The incapacity of the Navy to " impeach " 
the invader on the sea is thus represented as due, 
not to any deficiency of strength at any given point 
or moment, but to some indefeasible defect inherent 
in the nature of naval force as such and in the nature 
of the element on which it operates. If it were due 
to a mere deficiency of naval strength, the obvious 
and infallible remedy would seem to be to make good 
that deficiency at any cost and with as little delay 
as possible. But that is not the remedy recommended 
by Lord Roberts and his school. They would forth- 
with increase, and very largely increase, the military 
forces of the Crown available for the defence of these 
shores. At the risk of seeming presumptuous, I must 
insist once more that, if the sailors are to be trusted in 
a matter which especially concerns their profession, 
this is emphatically the wrong way to go to work. 
I do not here pose as an adherent of what is called, 
for some reason never intelligible to me, the " Blue 
Water School." I have never willingly used that 
phrase, for frankly, I do not in the least know what it 
means. I have learnt from the sailors that the function 
of a naval force adequate to prevent invasion is to 
operate neither in the blue waters of the Atlantic or the 
Mediterranean as such, nor in the grey waters of the 
North Sea as such, but in all those waters, whether 
blue or grey, whether deep or shallow, from which 
any menace of invasion can, on any reasonable calcula- 
tion of contingencies, be expected to come. But I am 
an adherent— as I have said, a convinced and wholly 
unrepentant adherent — of what I would call the 
"naval" school, the school, that is, that holds as the 
cardinal principle of its creed, that with a sufficiency 
of naval force the invader can and will be impeached 
at sea, and that without a sufficiency of naval force 
he cannot be impeached at all. Am I then an adherent 
of what has been called — merely pour rire perhaps — 
the " dinghy " school, the school which is supposed 


to hold, though I never met a disciple of it, that not 
a dinghy full of foreign soldiers could ever land on 
these shores so long as our naval defence on the seas 
is sufficient ? By no manner of means. I hold what 
is now the official doctrine as quite recently expounded 
in Parliament by the Secretary of State for War that 
the military forces of the Crown available for home 
defence should at all times be sufficient in numbers — 
and, of course, efficient enough in training, equipment, 
and organization — to compel any enemy who projects 
an invasion of this country to come in such force 
that he cannot come by stealth. Of course 1 pre- 
suppose an effective command by this country of the 
seas to be traversed by the invader ; but that is not 
to beg the question. It surely must be common 
ground with all disputants in this controversy that 
this country must never surrender the command of 
the sea to its enemies. That is the very meaning 
of the naval supremacy at which we aim, and must 
always aim as a condition absolutely indispensable to 
our national security and our Imperial integrity. If 
there is any room for doubt, or even for any reason- 
able feeling of insecurity, on this vital point, the one 
and only way to remove it is instantly to set about 
increasing our naval forces to any extent that may be 
necessary to re-establish our imperilled supremacy 
at sea. If I entertained any such doubt, I would 
not add a single man to the Army until 1 had once 
more brought the Navy to its required strength of 
unchallengeable supremacy at sea. For I hold now, 
as I held with Sir George Clarke twelve years ago, 
that if the sea communications of the Empire are not 
securely held in war, "no army of any assigned 
magnitude, and no fortifications of any imagined 
technical perfection can avert national ruin." 

Now I do not attempt to determine either the 
numbers of the military forces that must be available 
for home defence, nor the character of the training, 
equipment, and organization that ought to be given 


to them if they are to discharge the function that I 
have assigned to them ; that I leave entirely to 
competent military experts of whom assuredly I am 
not one. Neither am I a naval expert, for I hold that 
none but sailors are entitled to be so called ; but I 
know what the sailors think, for, as I am about to show, 
we have it on official record. Is it too much to ask 
the soldiers to withdraw from the naval province, in 
which they are not experts, and to confine themselves 
to the military province in which their authority is 
no more to be disputed than that of the sailors is in 
their province ? There are, indeed, some sailors whose 
authority I, at least, have no title to dispute, who 
follow the lead of Lord Roberts. But I suspect they 
do so mainly on the ground that they hold " national 
service " of the character advocated by him to be a 
good thing in itself, rather than on the assumption 
which his main argument presupposes, namely, that 
no sufficiency of naval force can insure this country 
from invasion. I repeat that his main argument must 
rest on that assumption, because, if mere insufficiency 
of naval force were alleged, the plain logic of the 
situation would imperatively insist that any and every 
such alleged insufficiency should be made good before 
any other form of national defence were even so much 
as attempted. But this will not serve the turn of 
Lord Roberts and his school. Soldiers, and the disciples 
of soldiers themselves, they insist on telling the sailor 
and his disciples that, whatever they may think to 
the contrary, no sufficiency of naval force can insure 
this country against invasion. I, of course, am no 
sailor, and therefore it is not for me to answer them. 
They, on the other hand, albeit experts, and experts 
not to be challenged by me at any rate, in their own 
province, are just as little experts in the sailors' 
province as I am. Fortunately there exists a tribunal, 
composed largely of experts in both provinces, to 
which we can both appeal. That tribunal is the 
Committee of Imperial Defence as constituted by Mr. 


xviii PREFACE 

Balfour. One of the first problems to which the 
Committee of Imperial Defence addressed itself was 
that of invasion, its risks and its possibilities, and 
some four years ago, on May u, 1905, Mr. Balfour 
expounded in the House of Commons the conclusions 
it had then reached. In unfolding his exposition he 
said : 

Though every one must recognize that this is the 
central problem of Imperial and national defence, we 
see year by year the continuance of a profitless 
wrangle between the advocates of different schools of 
military and naval thought to which the puzzled 
civilian gives a perplexed attention, and which leaves 
in the general mind an uneasy sense that, in spite 
of the millions we are spending on the Navy and the 
Army, the country is not, after all, secure against 
some sudden onslaught which might shatter the fabric 
of Empire. This, be it remembered, is no new state 
of things. It reaches far back into a historic past. 
The same controversy in which we are now engaged 
was raging in the time of Drake ; and then, as now, 
it was in the main the soldiers who took one side; 
in the main, the sailors who took the other. The 
great generals in the sixteenth century believed the 
invasion of England possible, the great admirals did 
not believe it possible. If you go down the stream 
of time, you come to an exactly similar state of things 
during the Napoleonic wars. ... It is certain that 
Napoleon believed invasion to be possible ; and it is 
equally certain that Nelson believed it to be impossible. 
Forty years later you find the Duke of Wellington, 
in a very famous letter, expressing, in terms almost 
pathetic in their intensity, his fears of invasion — fears 
which naval opinion has never shared, provided our 
fleets be adequate. We found, when we took up the 
subject, that the perennial dispute was still unsettled ; 
and it appeared to us — I do not say that full agreement 
could be come to, but something nearer than ever 
had been reached before—if we could avoid barren 
generalities, and devise a concrete problem capable of 
definite solution, yet based on suppositions so un- 
favourable to this country, that if, in this hypothetical 
case, serious invasion was demonstrably impossible, we 


might rest assured that it need not further enter into 
our practical calculations. Following out this idea, 
we assumed that our regular Army was abroad upon 
some oversea expedition, and that our organized fleets 
in permanent commission were absent from home 
waters. Frankly I do not see that we could be 
expected to go further. 

Mr. Balfour then proceeded to define more precisely 
the suppositions, as unfavourable to this country as 
they could with any show of reason be made, on 
which the conclusions of the Committee were based. 
He assumed, "for the sake of argument, that the 
Mediterranean, the Atlantic, and the Channel Fleets 
are far away from these shores, incapable of taking 
any part in repelling invasion, though of course still 
constituting a menace to the communications of any 
invader fortunate or unfortunate enough to have 
effected a landing." He assumed further, that the 
military forces at home had been reduced to the lowest 
ebb they had reached during the crisis of the war in 
South Africa. Then he proceeded to inquire what 
was the smallest force with which a foreign Power 
would be likely to invade this country. " That," he 
said, "may seem a paradoxical way of putting the 
question, but it is the true way. . . . The difficulty 
which our hypothetical invader has to face is not that 
of accumulating a sufficient force on his side of the 
water, but the difficulty of transferring it to ours; and 
inasmuch as that difficulty increases in an increasing 
ratio with every additional transport required and 
every augmentation in the landing force, it becomes 
evident that the problem which a foreign general has 
to consider is not, ' How many men would I like to 
have in England in order to conquer it ? ' but ' With 
how few men can I attempt its conquest ? ' " To the 
question so propounded the answer given by all the 
military authorities consulted, including Lord Roberts 
himself, was that it would not be possible to make 
the attempt with less than 70,000 men. " With a 


force even of this magnitude Lord Roberts was 
distinctly of opinion that for 70,000 men to attempt 
to take London — which is, after all, what would 
have to be done if the operation were in any sense 
to be conclusive — would be in the nature of a forlorn 
hope." Finally, taking France to be the invading 
Power, not in the least because it is at all likely that 
France would be the invading Power, but because, 
being nearer to this country than any other Power, 
France could, if she were so minded, invade this 
country more easily than any other Power, Mr. 
Balfour showed, and declared that it was the con- 
viction of the Committee, that even on these extreme 
assumptions, " unfavourable as they are, serious in- 
vasion of these islands is not a possibility which we 
need consider." 

That was, only four years ago, the considered 
judgment of the only tribunal competent to decide 
between soldiers and sailors when they disagree, 
delivered from his place in the House of Commons 
by the Minister who was at the time primarily and 
finally responsible for the security of the Empire and 
the inviolability of these shores. Has anything oc- 
curred since to disallow the judgment then delivered 
or to show cause why the appeal of Lord Roberts 
and his school against it should be entertained ? I 
am not aware that the Committee of Imperial Defence 
has shown any disposition to reverse its judgment, 
or even to revise it in any essential respect. It has 
indeed been alleged, I believe, that Mr. Balfour's 
estimate of the tonnage required for the transport of 
a given number of troops was excessive, and that the 
tonnage then alleged to be available at any given 
time for France was far below the estimate that would 
have to be made of the tonnage available at any given 
time for another Power, more distant than France 
from these shores, which, if we were at war with it, 
or if its ambitions prompted it to a sudden and un- 
provoked attack, might seek to invade this country. 


But the revision of these factors to the extent required 
— for the sake of precision let us say to the extent 
of enabling the Power in question to embark 150,000 
or even 200,000 men — does not in any way impair the 
capacity claimed by Mr. Balfour and the Committee 
of Imperial Defence for the depleted naval force of 
their fundamental assumption to impeach that en- 
larged embarkation. On the contrary, it enhances 
the capacity to make invasion impossible then claimed 
for the residual naval forces in home waters and not 
at the time disputed in any authoritative quarter ; 
for, as Mr. Balfour insisted, the difficulties of embarka- 
tion, transit, and landing increase in an increasing 
ratio with every additional transport required, and 
every augmentation in the landing force transported. 
I would add that the hypothesis on which Mr. Balfour 
and the Committee proceeded in 1905, namely that 
our organized fleets in permanent commission were 
absent from home waters, is no longer a tenable or 
even a thinkable one. The Mediterranean Fleet is 
likely to be absent in any case. The Atlantic Fleet 
is just as likely, or as unlikely, to be absent in the 
future as it was in the past. But the Channel Fleet 
has now become a detached division of the Home 
Fleet and, as such, it is, for the future, very unlikely 
to be beyond striking distance at the hour of need. 
These were all the fleets in permanent commission 
which Mr. Balfour had to consider in 1905, and he 
assumed them all to be away. Even so he declared, 
on the authority of the Committee of Imperial Defence, 
that serious invasion was not a possibility which we 
need consider. But the Home Fleet as we now know 
it had not then been constituted. It is now, or 
shortly will be, by far the strongest single fleet in 
the world, and it is practically inconceivable that it 
should ever be absent from home waters. If the 
Committee held that without the Home Fleet as now 
constituted, and with all the other fleets in permanent 
commission away, we were safe against the invasion 


of 70,000 men in 1905, can it conceivably hold that 
with the Home Fleet, as now constituted, always in 
home waters, we are not still more safe in 1909 against 
the invasion of 150,000 or even 200,000 men, than we 
were in 1905 against the invasion of 70,000 men? The 
difficulties and delays involved in the embarkation, 
transport, and landing of 200,000 men I shall not 
attempt to estimate, nor shall I ask any soldier to 
estimate them. It is purely a sailor's question, and 
how a sailor would answer it may be seen in a 
masterly discussion of what professional strategists 
would call the " logistics " of this question contributed 
to the Contemporary Review for February 1909, by a 
writer who signs himself " Master Mariner." The 
identity of this writer is unknown to me; but he 
is evidently a sailor, and he is writing on matters 
concerning which soldiers, and indeed all who are 
not sailors, must be content to sit at the feet of 
the sailors. We do not ask sailors to tell the 
soldiers how to conduct military enterprises on land. 
Why are we to listen to soldiers when they insist 
upon telling us that sailors do not know their 
business afloat, or that the sailors of to-day cannot 
do what their forefathers have done over and over 
again ? 

But some soldiers are really impayables — of course 
I am here speaking, not of individual soldiers, but of 
soldiers in the sense in which Mr. Balfour spoke of 
the historic antagonism between soldiers and sailors 
on the field of national defence. You have no sooner 
rebutted one of their arguments, as I hope I have 
done on the authority of Mr. Balfour and the Com- 
mittee of Defence, than with amazing polemical agility 
they forthwith confront you with its exact opposite. 
We used to be told that you cannot rely on the Navy 
to prevent invasion, because at the critical moment 
your fleets may be away. " Very well," said Mr. Bal- 
four in effect, " I will, for the sake of argument, pre- 
posterous as the argument really is, send all the 

PREFACE xxiii 

organized fleets away, and still I am able to show you 
that, in the judgment of the Committee of Defence, 
invasion is nevertheless impossible." Straightway the 
boot of the soldier is transferred to the other leg. 
Since Mr. Balfour spoke, the distribution of the 
national fleets has been adjusted by the Admiralty 
to that momentous change in the strategic situation 
which has come about through the growth of a great 
naval Power with its bases on or adjacent to the 
North Sea. The effect of this readjustment has been 
to render Mr. Balfour's original hypothesis of the 
total absence of all our organized fleets from home 
waters too preposterous even for hypothetical con- 
sideration. The Home Fleet never will be away, 
and the Home Fleet is, as I have said, the strongest 
single fleet in the world. Still the soldier is not 
happy, and, to be quite frank, he finds some support 
from some sailors at this point. He has found a 
sailor of over fifty years' service to complain that 
the British Fleet is now " manacled " to the shores 
of the United Kingdom, that the proud prerogative 
which it once enjoyed of roaming at large over all 
the seas of the world, is now and for ever in abeyance, 
and that it must henceforth be " cabin'd, cribb'd, 
confined " within the narrow seas. I fancy I have 
crossed swords with this veteran sailor more than 
once, and if so, I have generally found his polemic 
rather ingenious than convincing, and sometimes a 
little wayward. His argument seems to me merely 
to mean this, that as a sailor of long standing and 
of all the authority which his long standing implies, 
he does not approve of that strategic distribution of 
the fleet which now finds favour with the Admiralty. 
Be it so. In this field I am no match for him. He 
is a sailor and I am not. His disapproval of the policy 
of the Admiralty is, as the French say, une idee comme 
une autre, and I at least am no arbiter between his 
ideas and those he repudiates. But I recollect a very 
distinguished naval officer, who was at the time 


Director of Naval Intelligence, saying to me many 
years ago, " If you have a sufficiency of naval force, 
surely you may trust the Admiralty to distribute it 
to the best advantage from time to time." I have 
never forgotten the admonition, and it is one which I 
would commend to my countrymen, whether soldiers 
or civilians, who are no more experts in this matter 
than I am. It is different, of course, with sailors 
who are experts in this matter. My friend of the 
" manacled fleet," with his more than fifty years' 
service — I am sure honourable and distinguished — 
is fully entitled to convert the Admiralty if he can. 
But I doubt if he will. 

My own views on this matter, whatever they may 
be worth, are given in an essay in this volume 
entitled " The Strategy of Position." Perhaps I may 
here supplement them by quoting a short extract 
from a letter I addressed to The Times over my own 
initials shortly after Mr. Balfour's speech was delivered 
in 1905. It had been argued that Mr. Balfour had 
ignored the possibility of our having to deal with two 
or three great Powers at the same moment. On this 
I said : 

I can discern no foundation whatever for this con- 
tention. It seems to me to be altogether inconsistent 
with the fundamental hypothesis that our main fleets 
are absent. That hypothesis is an extreme, almost 
an extravagant, one in any case. It becomes strategi- 
cally unthinkable — as I cannot doubt that the Prime 
Minister, fresh from the deliberations of the Committee 
of Defence, would acknowledge — unless we assume 
that the fleets are absent, not on a wild-goose chase, 
but solely for the purpose of meeting to the best 
advantage the fleets of such Powers as may have com- 
bined, or are likely to combine, against this country. 
If the enemies' fleets are in adjacent waters, our own 
main fleets will be there too. If the enemies' fleets 
are in distant waters, our own main fleets will be 
there too. In any case, unless our sailors are un- 
worthy of their sires, our own main fleets will 


always be where they can act to the best advantage, 
whether in home or in foreign waters, against the 
enemies of their country ; and, even when they are 
in foreign waters, there will always be a residual 
naval force in home waters to deal with what, by 
the hypothesis, can only be the residual naval 
force of this or that enemy who seeks to invade us. 
That is what every sailor instinctively understands, 
and yet what nearly every soldier seems to be almost 
incapable of understanding. It is only because we 
have now happily bethought ourselves of asking the 
sailors a question which sailors alone are competent 
to answer that the country at large is beginning to 
understand it at last. It seems to me that this is a 
revolution in the strategic thought and the defensive 
policy of the country comparable only to the 
Copernican revolution in astronomy. 

But the Copernican system did not find universal 
acceptance at once. Even Bacon wrote in his hasty 
youth of " these new carmen who drive the earth 
about." But Bacon, as we know, was said by 
Harvey to " write philosophy like a Lord Chancellor." 
Perhaps, if Harvey had written of law, Bacon 
would have retorted that he wrote of law like a 
physician. When soldiers try to teach sailors their 
business, or sailors do the same by soldiers, I 
would invite them both to apply the apologue to 

The truth is that the naval forces of this country are 
now for the most part concentrated in home waters 
because that is where what I would call the centre of 
strategic moment manifestly lies in existing circum- 
stances. There are only two naval Powers in Europe 
which as matters stand at present are capable of 
trying conclusions with this country on the seas. 
These are Germany and France. I am not concerned 
to inquire whether we are likely to be at war with 
either of them ; I sincerely trust we are not. But 
political issues of this kind are altogether outside my 
present province. In any case it stands to reason 



that if we were at war with either of them or with 
both, and if either or both desired in that contingency 
to invade this country, we should need a naval force 
in home waters sufficient to make certain of impeach- 
ing them. We want no more than that, however, 
at any time ; and if at any time we maintain a 
larger force in home waters than suffices for that 
purpose, that is merely a matter of administrative 
convenience, and not in any sense a matter of strategic 
necessity. The ships and fleets not required for 
home defence are just as free to go anywhere and 
do anything as they ever were, and they do go far and 
wide whenever occasion serves or calls. In the 
course of last year the Atlantic Fleet went to Quebec 
and the Second Cruiser Squadron paid a round of 
visits, first in South Africa and afterwards in South 
America. Not a year passes that the Fourth Cruiser 
Squadron does not visit the West Indies. That is 
the true way of " showing the flag." What " showing 
the flag" means when ships which cannot fight and 
must not run away are employed for the purpose, I 
have shown in my comments on the capture of the 
Drake by Paul Jones in the Ranger. 

It is, moreover, purely a soldiers' idea and not a 
sailors' at all that a sufficiency of military defence on 
shore will set free the fleet for the discharge of its 
proper duties. What are the proper duties of the 
fleet ? They are, as every sailor knows, u to keep 
foreigners from fooling us," as Blake, who was soldier 
and sailor too, is reputed to have said in the rough 
and homely fashion of his age. This is done by con- 
fronting the foreigner — or, as I should prefer to say, 
the enemy — in superior force in any part of the seas 
where, if we were not there in superior force, he might 
be able to fool us. He cannot fool us anywhere unless 
he can get there, and if he attempts to get there, he 
will very soon find that a superior force is " upon his 
jacks," as Howard said. Since neither ships nor fleets 
can be in two places at once, it is plain that, superiority 

PREFACE xxvii 

of force in a known proportion being presupposed, 
and guaranteed in that proportion by the two-Power 
standard, it can be maintained in the like proportion 
in any part of the world where the enemy's ships are 
to be found, except in so far as a single ship cannot be 
split up into fractions. I should have thought that 
any soldier could see that, just as well as any sailor, 
or any civilian, for that matter, who can work a sum 
in simple proportion. The soldier very seldom does 
see it however ; and even when he does begin to see 
it, as apparently he did in 1905, he can always find 
some ingenious sailor to draw the feather once more 
across his eyes. 

In sum, then, my plea is simply this : That the 
problem of home defence, being in its very essence 
partly a naval problem and partly a military problem, 
the soldier should leave the solution of the naval 
problem to the sailor, who is an expert in this pro- 
vince, and confine himself exclusively to the province 
in which he is equally an expert, namely the solution 
of the military problem. Thus, the first question 
which the soldier should address to the sailor is, 
" Can you keep the invader out ? " To this, if Mr. 
Balfour and the Committee of Defence are to be 
trusted, the sailor will answer without hesitation, 
" Unquestionably I can, if only you will have military 
force enough on land, suitably trained, equipped, and 
organized, to compel him to come, if he comes at 
all, in such numbers that he cannot escape my 
attentions. If, as Lord Roberts told the Committee 
of Defence, no invader would dream of coming with 
less than 70,000 men, and even then it would be a 
forlorn hope, I can certainly stop him if he comes 
with that number, and a fortiori if he comes with 
twice or thrice that number, provided only, and pro- 
vided always, that he has not first cleared the seas 
of all my available force ; and, frankly, I don't see 
how he is to do that so long as the two-Power 
standard is maintained." Thus the naval problem is 

xxviii PREFACE 

now disengaged altogether from the military problem, 
being solved by the sailor to the entire satisfaction of 
the Committee of Defence, and we can now turn with 
confidence to the soldier for the solution of the military 
problem. I, who am neither soldier nor sailor, have 
offered no solution of either problem. I have applied 
myself purely to the method of stating the problem 
and of looking for its solution in the proper quarter, 
and not to its subject-matter at all. That I leave 
entirely to the sailor so far as it lies in his province, 
and to the soldier so far as it lies in his. For the 
solution of the naval problem I have gone to the 
only authoritative source known to me, namely, 
the conclusions of the Committee of Defence recorded 
in 1905 by the Prime Minister of the day. Those 
conclusions hold the field until they are either modi- 
fied or withdrawn on the same unimpeachable 
authority. For the solution of the associated military 
problem I am quite ready to go to the same source ; 
and, since it is a purely military problem, I am equally 
ready to take its solution from the soldiers and not 
to listen to the sailors at all. The problem may 
now be stated thus : What amount of military force 
is it necessary to maintain at all times in this country 
in order to make sure that if any enemy seeks to 
invade us he shall be compelled to cross the sea 
with at least 70,000 men, and how should this force 
be trained, equipped, and organized for the purpose ? 
It may be that the answer is to be found in the 
Territorial Force, or in such modification and de- 
velopment of it as Lord Roberts and his followers 
have advocated. That is not for me, a mere civilian, 
to discuss, still less to decide. I will only record 
my own conviction that, if the problem is solved 
on these terms, the Territorial Force, or any other 
force which may hereafter be found better fitted to 
discharge the same function, will never exchange a 
single shot with an invader on British soil any more 
than its predecessors, the Volunteers, ever did. The 


Romans had a proverb, Res ad triarios venit, to signify 
that when the engagement had reached the triarii, 
the end of the conflict was at hand, and that so far 
it had gone against the legions. The Territorial 
Force, or any future substitute for it, will always 
be the triarii of the British array. If ever they are 
called upon to withstand an invader on British soil, 
the end of the Empire will not be far off. But, so 
long as our naval supremacy is maintained, it is 
much more likely that if they ever meet an enemy 
in the stricken field at all, they will, as many of 
their predecessors the Volunteers did, meet him 
thousands of miles from the shores they were enrolled 
to defend. Thus will patriotism once more be justified 
of all her children. 

Perhaps at no time in the history of this country 
since the days of the Norman Conquest has the 
menace of invasion been so acute as it was in the 
two years before Trafalgar, when, as Captain Mahan 
says, " Nelson before Toulon was wearing away the 
last two years of his glorious but suffering life, 
fighting the fierce north-westers of the Gulf of Lyon 
and questioning — questioning continually with feverish 
anxiety — whether Napoleon's object was Egypt again 
or Great Britain really." The Grand Army, 130,000 
strong, was encamped at Boulogne and along the 
adjacent coasts, whence " they could, on fine days, 
as they practised the varied manoeuvres which were 
to perfect the vast host in disembarking with order 
and rapidity, see the white cliffs fringing the only 
country that to the last defied their arms." England 
was shaken with alarms. The Army Estimates, which 
had stood at £12,952,000 in 1803, rose with a bound 
to £22,889,000 in 1804, and again advanced to over 
£23,000,000 in 1805. The number of effectives voted 
for employment in the United Kingdom rose from 
66,000 in 1803, to 129,000 in 1804, and 135,000 
in 1805, an d even then they barely exceeded the 
numbers with which Napoleon, not forty miles away 


across the Channel, was preparing to invade and 
hoping to conquer England. 1 The martial ardour of 
the people rose to an unprecedented height. Every 
county resounded with the drill of patriotic Volunteers 
— over 300,000 in number. Dumouriez, the versatile 
victor of Valmy, pestered the British Ministers with 
plans for their permanent organization. Men won- 
dered from day to day when " Buonaparte," or 
" Boney " as they called him, would come, and why 
he did not come. My own grandfather used to tell 
how false alarms of his coming would sometimes 
fetch the Volunteers out of their beds and march 
them off in the middle of the night to the nearest 
rendezvous. I daresay the soldiers of the day could 
demonstrate to their hearts' content that he certainly 
would come, and that there was really nothing, except 
the military array on shore, to prevent his coming ; 
but the sailors never faltered. " Those far-distant, 
storm-beaten ships, upon which the Grand Army 
never looked, stood between it and the dominion of 
the world." And though the soldiers may have in- 
sisted that it was their preparations on shore that 
" set free " the outlying ships to occupy their stations 
far away, yet I cannot find that the sailors set much 
store by these same preparations, and it is certain 
from their own words and deeds that they knew, 
as surely as men can ever be sure about anything 
in war, that however quickly Napoleon's troops might 
embark on one side of the Channel, they would never 
be allowed to disembark on the other until the sea 
supremacy of this country had been overthrown. Nor, 
again, can I find that Napoleon was ever for a moment 

1 These figures are taken from the Annual Register. Fuller 
details will be found in the valuable work on The County Lieutenancies 
and The Army, 1803-1814, recently published by the Hon. J. W. 
Fortescue. It is only right to acknowledge that Mr. Fortescue 
puts the total strength of the Regular Army at a higher figure than 
those given above. But his account of the organization and equip- 
ment of some portions of it goes far to explain why Napoleon was 
never intimidated by its numbers. 


intimidated by the stir of military preparation in 
England. It was not that which stopped him, or 
ever would have stopped him, if the fleets which 
barred his way could once have been put out of 

" Our great reliance," wrote St. Vincent, " is on the 
vigilance and activity of our cruisers at sea." When 
the menace of invasion first became acute in 1801, 
before the Peace of Amiens, Nelson wrote : " Our first 
defence is close to the enemy's ports " — that is, his 
ports in the Channel — " and the Admiralty have taken 
such precautions, by having such a respectable force 
under my orders, that I venture to express a well- 
grounded hope that the enemy would be annihilated 
before they get ten miles from their own shores." 
Again, Pellew said in his place in Parliament in 1804 : 
u As to the enemy being able in a narrow sea to pass 
through our blockading and protecting squadron with 
all the secrecy and dexterity, and by those hidden 
means that some worthy people expect, I really, from 
anything I have seen in the course of my professional 
experience, am not much disposed to concur in it." 
These words are as pertinent in 1909 as they were in 
1804, and I would commend them to the special atten- 
tion of soldiers in our own day. Finally, I would point 
out that if the Ministers of the day were really rely- 
ing on an Army of 135,000 men, supported by 300,000 
Volunteers, to keep the 130,000 troops of Napoleon 
out of the country, they were guilty of something like 
treason in sending no fewer than 11,000 regular troops 
out of the country on distant and secret expeditions, 
as they did in 1805, at the very crisis of the Trafalgar 
campaign. One of these expeditions, consisting of 
some 5,000 men, embarked in April 1805, about a fort- 
night after Villeneuve left Toulon for the last time. 
The troops were destined for Gibraltar, Malta, and 
Naples, where they were to co-operate with a con- 
tingent of Russian troops, and where in the following 
year they were destined to win the victory of Maida. 

xxxii PREFACE 

It was the presence of this combined force in South- 
ern Italy that determined Napoleon's instructions to 
Villeneuve to make for the Mediterranean when he 
left Cadiz to encounter Nelson at Trafalgar. The 
troops were under the command of Sir James Craig, 
and were convoyed by two line-of-battleships under 
the command of Rear-Admiral Knight. Nelson was 
ordered to furnish them, if he deemed it necessary, 
with additional convoy in the Mediterranean, and 
just before he left for the West Indies in pursuit of 
Villeneuve he detached the Royal Sovereign for that 
purpose. The other expedition, consisting of some 
6,000 men, under the command of Sir David Baird, 
was despatched in August of the same year at a time 
when Villeneuve was still at large and still undefeated. 
Its destination was the Cape, and in January 1806 
it captured Cape Town and put an end for ever to 
the rule of Holland in South Africa. These singular 
episodes have generally been overlooked. They seem 
to show conclusively that the British Government, in 
1805, was very far from quaking over the insufficiency 
of our military defences at that time. The knee is 
nearer than the shin. You do not send troops abroad 
when you want them to repel the invader at home. 
The sailors had apparently convinced the Government 
that the management of the invader could safely be 
left to themselves. 1 

It was left to the sailors, with what results we know. 
There were chances of failure no doubt, but so there 
must be in any war. Napoleon knew this as well 
as any man, and complained that his admirals had 
" learned — where I do not know — that war can be made 

1 It is, moreover, highly important to note that Mr. Fortescue 
is of opinion that, after the rupture of the Peace of Amiens, England 
could and should have taken the military offensive abroad from the 
very outset. "An attitude of passive and inert defence," he says, 
"is very rarely sound and was never more false than in 1803. . . . 
Napoleon was not prepared for war. ... It may be asserted without 
hesitation that the British Government could, so far as the safety of 
the sea was concerned, have sent any force that it pleased to any 

PREFACE xxxiii 

without running risks." But the sailors of England 
had learned their lesson better. They ran risks, 
and they even made mistakes, but they never faltered 
in their conviction that, if the fleets of England could 
not save England, nothing else could. Is it a mere 
accident, or the mere fortune of war, which one day 
may play us false, that from the Norman Conquest, 
when England was lost by the insufficiency of her 
fleet, to the days of Trafalgar, when she was saved 
by its sufficiency, the sufficiency and prowess of the 
fleet — more than once its bare and scarcely adequate 
sufficiency — have invariably kept the invader at bay, 
and that her defenders on shore have never once met 
an enemy on British soil except in such mere handfuls 
that his discomfiture has left scarcely a trace in the 
national history ? For an answer to this question I 
have nothing to add to what was said, with far higher 
authority than mine, by Sir George Clarke twelve 
years ago : * 

That naval force is the natural and proper defence 
of a maritime State against over-sea invasion is the 
indisputable teaching of history. The unbroken con- 
sistency of the records of hundreds of years cannot 
possibly be the result of accident. No theories incubated 
in times of peace, no speculations as to what might 
have happened if events had shaped themselves 
differently, can shake a law thus irrefragably estab- 
lished. There is only one explanation of the fact 
that of the many projected invasions of England none 
has succeeded for eight hundred years, notwith- 
standing that naval superiority has not existed 

point that it pleased, and thirty thousand, or even twenty thousand, 
men despatched to Sicily or to Naples in the summer of 1803 must 
almost certainly have broken up the camp at Boulogne." In other 
words, if the soldiers wanted to share with the sailors the task of 
keeping Napoleon at bay, they could, in the judgment of this high 
authority, have done so much more effectively by organizing a 
counter-stroke abroad than by filling England with tumultuary forces 
which Napoleon never even affected to fear. 
1 The Navy and the Nation^ p. 320. 


xxxiv PREFACE 

at all periods, and that the military forces at 
home have often been utterly inadequate to resist 
the strength that could be brought against them, 
if the sea had not intervened. All the great 
operations of war are ruled by the measure of the 
risk involved, and, until the defending Navy has 
been crushed, the risk of exposing large numbers 
of transports to attack is too great to be easily 

Is it, or is it not, then, an advantage to be an insular 
State ? The answer is surely given in the fact that there 
is no State in Europe which has not been invaded 
over and over again in the eight hundred years during 
which England has enjoyed immunity from that un- 
speakable calamity. How long will that immunity last 
if we once begin to transfer the stress of defence from 
the sea to the land ? If the fleet of England, which is 
her all in all, as it always has been, can no longer be 
trusted to keep the invader at bay, it is not " National 
Service" that will save us. The full model of the 
citizen-armies of the Continent will barely serve our 
needs. At the same time the defence of the Empire 
and the security of our maritime commerce will need a 
Navy just as strong as before. India cannot be held 
unless we command the sea, as every sailor knows and 
as every soldier will acknowledge. Hence, on these 
conditions, so far from its being an advantage to 
England to be an island State, it must in time become 
a tremendous and overwhelming disadvantage. There 
is, in very truth, no middle course in the matter. 
Either the fleet, so long as it is maintained in suffi- 
ciency, can henceforth, as heretofore, be trusted to 
keep the invader at bay, in which case our military 
defences can be strictly adjusted to the measure and 
the conditions of our sea power; or it cannot, in 
which case not all the adult manhood of the nation 
in arms will suffice to defend our homes. Surely the 
country cannot hesitate between these two alternatives. 
Nearly five hundred years ago the truth was written 


in rugged lines that still go to the root of the whole 
matter : 

Keep then the Sea about in special, 

Which of England is the Town-wall. 

As though England were likened to a City 

And the Wall environ were the Sea. 

Keep then the Sea that is the Wall of England, 

And then is England kept by God's hand ; 

That as for any Thing that is without, 

England were at Ease withouten doubt. 












INDEX 375 


lord nelson Frontispiece 

From the original painting for Sir Wm. Hamilton by Leonardo 
Guzzardi, and presented to the Admiralty by the Hon. Robt. Fulke 
Greville in 1848. Reproduced by permission of the Admiralty. 





Painted by Hoppner in 1788. Reproduced by permission of the Earl 
of Camperdown from the original in his possession. 


From a painting by Charles Willson Peale. Reproduced by permission 
of Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons. 


* # * For an explanation of the device on the cover of this volume 
see note on page 256. 




THE memory of Trafalgar can never fade so long 
as England remains a nation, nor even so long as 
the English tongue is spoken or the history of England 
is remembered in any part of the world. It was 
so transcendent an event, so far-reaching in its 
consequences, so heroic in its proportions, so dramatic 
in its incidents, so tragic in its catastrophe, that it 
is difficult to name any single event in all history 
which quite equals it in the opulent assemblage of 
all those elements and conditions which excite and 
sustain the abiding interest of mankind. It was the 
last and greatest fight of the greatest seaman of all 
time. It was consecrated by his death in the hour 
of victory. It delivered this nation once for all from 
the threatened thraldom of Napoleon. It changed the 
face of Europe, and set the world's stage for the 
successive acts of that tremendous drama which ended 
ten years later at Waterloo. It was, moreover, the 
last great fight of the sailing-ship period of naval 
warfare. It was at Trafalgar that the unique genius 
of Nelson, then at its ripest, put the last finishing 
touch— the Nelson touch — to those tactical methods 

1 The Times, October 21, 1905. 


which three centuries of warfare had evolved, and 
witched the world with noble seamanship never to 
be seen on the field of naval battle again. But 
Trafalgar did even more than all this. When 
Gravelines, the first great battle of the sailing-ship 
period, was fought, England did not possess in effective 
occupation and sovereignty a single rood of territory 
beyond the narrow seas. It was, indeed, Drake 
and his comrades who laid at Gravelines the founda- 
tions of that vast Empire which sea power has since 
given us, but it was Trafalgar that countersigned its 
title-deeds with the blood of Nelson and of those 
who died with him, and ratified them beyond dispute. 
It is the thought of all these things, and of many 
others which the name and memory of Trafalgar sug- 
gest, that should inspire Englishmen whenever they 
celebrate the anniversary of the battle. We are then 
commemorating the most famous and the most de- 
cisive victory ever achieved by British arms on the 
seas. We are mourning, as our forefathers mourned 
now more than a hundred years ago, the death in the 
hour of victory of the greatest of all sea-captains, of the 
man whose surpassing gifts of head and heart, whose 
unparalleled achievements in the defence of his country 
and the overthrow of its enemies, have endeared him 
beyond all other sons of Britain to every son of 
Britain who lives and thinks to-day. We may study 
Nelson's personality and character, and still find more 
and more to engage and enthral our love. We may 
analyse his methods, and still find their depths un- 
fathomable. We may appeal in his name — as the Poet 
Laureate has appealed — to our modern " Wardens of 
the Wave " to emulate his deeds and yet never to for- 
get his generous and loving temper. " May humanity 
in the hour of victory be the predominant feature of 
the British Fleet," was the prayer of his last unclouded 
hours. We may remember — as Mr. Henry Newbolt 
has bidden us remember — how " the soul of this man 
cherished Duty's name." But perhaps we may sum it 


all up best with Browning in those stirring " Home 
Thoughts from the Sea " : 

Nobly, nobly Cape Saint Vincent to the north-west died away ; 
Sunset ran, one glorious blood-red, reeking into Cadiz Bay ; 
Bluish mid the burning water, full in face Trafalgar lay ; 
In the dimmest north-east distance, dawned Gibraltar grand and 

11 Here and here did England help me ; how can I help England ? " say 
Whoso turns as I, this evening, turn to God to praise and pray, 
While Jove's planet rises yonder, silent over Africa. 

This is the true spirit in which Englishmen should 
approach the thought and memory of Trafalgar, in 
no " braggart vein " of martial triumph, but in one of 
solemn thanksgiving for mercies which it behoves us 
still to deserve. After more than a hundred years 
have passed — for nearly all of which we have happily 
been at peace with the great nation it took a Nelson 
to beat at Trafalgar, — after the passions that engen- 
dered the conflict have long ago died down and passed 
away, above all now that the two nations are at length 
beginning to understand how necessary each is to 
the other, the last thing that we should think of in 
commemorating Trafalgar is the fact that France was 
worsted in that encounter of heroes. In truth it was 
not so much France that was worsted at Trafalgar 
as Napoleon that was overthrown, and even France — 
the valour of whose seamen was never more stoutly 
displayed than on that memorable day — may now feel 
that her true greatness lies in quite other directions 
than those in which Napoleon would have led her; 
in the peace and contentment of her sons, in her 
orderly emergence from the throes of a necessary 
revolution, in her sustained championship, now happily 
shared by her former foe, of those great ideas, begotten 
of her revolution and ours, which are to make more 
and more, as both nations hope and believe, for the 
peace, prosperity, and progress of mankind. It is not 
then, in any sense, the discomfiture of France that we 
celebrate on Trafalgar Day. Still less have we in mind 


the discomfiture of her gallant ally, Spain, the ancient 
mistress of the seas. Our long centuries of struggle 
with the valiant sons of Spain have taught us to 
value them as highly as friends as erstwhile we 
dreaded them as foes, and to the sincerity of our 
sentiments the reception always accorded to their 
youthful monarch on the occasion of his visits to these 
shores bears ample testimony. It is the deliverance 
of England and of Europe, France and her allies 
included, from the scourge of Napoleon's devastating 
sway that we celebrate. " England," said Pitt, in 
what Lord Rosebery terms " the noblest, the tersest, 
and the last of all his speeches " — " England has saved 
herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save 
Europe by her example." She did save Europe 
in the end, though even the indomitable spirit of 
Pitt quailed for a moment, and his splendid insight 
deserted him, when Austerlitz followed so quickly 
on Trafalgar. " Roll up that map," he said, as he 
caught sight of a map of Europe a few days before 
his death ; " it will not be wanted these ten years." It 
was not wanted for hard upon ten years to come. 
" But," as was once said in The Times, " in spite of all 
that was happening then at Ulm, at Austerlitz, and at 
Vienna, in spite of all that was destined to happen 
in the Peninsula, at Moscow, and at Waterloo before 
the map of Europe could be finally settled at the 
restoration of peace to the world, Pitt, if his faith and 
insight had been those of his own prime, . . . might 
there and then have placed one finger on the site 
of Napoleon's camp at Boulogne, and another on 
the scene of Nelson's death at Trafalgar, and said 
1 Here and now is Napoleon vanquished ; here and 
now is a barrier set to his power and designs which, 
so long as England remains a nation, shall never be 
cast down.' " In truth it was the hand of Nelson, dead 
in the flesh, but still living in the spirit and in the 
might of its deeds, that guided and determined the 
course of events from the day of Austerlitz to the day 


of Waterloo. It was he who compelled Napoleon 
to abandon for ever his plan for invading England. 
It was those " far-distant, storm-beaten ships " of his 
and those of his companions in arms that, as Captain 
Mahan truly says, stood between Napoleon and the 
dominion of the world. That is why we celebrate 
Trafalgar with undying thankfulness for so great a 
deliverance and for the valour and genius of those 
who wrought it, and yet with none but kindly thoughts 
of the nations which, though vanquished, there fought 
so well. When during the visit of a French fleet to 
English waters in 1905 the French officers and seamen 
passed through Trafalgar Square, they bared their 
heads in silent reverence before the Nelson Column. 
Let us all imitate that noble and gracious act of 
homage. We cannot, if we would, forget Trafalgar 
and its incomparable hero. We should not, if we 
could, refrain from celebrating its anniversary with 
more than ordinary solemnity. That we owe to 
ourselves as heirs of the ages and of the conflicts 
which have made us what we are. But we owe it not 
less to France, as the nation in Europe whose ideals 
come nearest to our own and whose genius best 
supplements our own, to forget the causes of our 
former differences and remember only the valour and 
self-devotion of those who fought and died for her at 

Even if Trafalgar were not one of the greatest events 
in our history, it would still be one of the most 
memorable, because it was there that the incomparable 
genius of Nelson was canonized for all time by the 
splendour of his victory and the tragedy of his glorious 
death. As Lady Londonderry wrote, he then " began 
his immortal career, having nothing to achieve upon 
earth, and bequeathing to the English Fleet a legacy 
which they alone are able to improve." Spartam nactus 
es f hanc exorna, is the supreme and undying lesson 
of that immortal scene. " Here and here did England 
help me ; how can I help England ? " is the solemn 


question which every Englishman should put to him- 
self while meditating, in all sobriety and humility 
of spirit, on what Trafalgar did for him, on what 
the example of Nelson's life and character has in it 
to stir and uplift him. We cannot all be Nelsons. 
Genius such as his, a judgment as of ice, an ardour as 
of fire, an insight as of direct inspiration, "untiring 
energy," to quote Captain Mahan, " boundless audacity, 
promptness, intrepidity, and endurance beyond all 
proof," a patriotism of the purest, a sense of duty 
of the highest, a superb fearlessness of responsibility, 
generosity, loving-kindness, and sympathy the most 
abounding — these and other great qualities of his are 
such as nature bestows in all their wondrous assem- 
blage on none but the choicest of her souls. The 
genius is unique and incommunicable. But the moral 
qualities, the graces of the temper and the spirit, 
which in Nelson did so much to sustain and illuminate 
his genius, are happily just those which every true 
man can strive to emulate, even if he may not hope 
to rise to the full height of Nelson's great exemplar. 
That is the abiding lesson of such a life as that of 
Nelson. Without a peer in the special range of his 
activities he was perhaps almost as incomparable 
in the loving and lovable qualities of his heart, in the 
ardours of his lofty soul. There is but one Nelson ; 
but there is not an Englishman alive who may not 
if he chooses be the better for what Nelson did 
for him. 



IN the following exposition I have as far as possible 
avoided technical details ; but as all technical 
detail cannot be avoided in a tactical exposition, it 
may be as well to explain at the outset such technical 
terms as must inevitably be used. The points of the 
compass may be taken first. There are 32 of them in 
all, so that a right-angle contains eight points, and 
each point consists of 11J degrees. Next to explain 
the relation of these points to the course of a ship as 
determined by the direction of the wind. A sailing- 
ship cannot move in a direction opposite to that of 
the wind, as a steamship can. She need not have the 
wind behind her, but if she is to move by its agency, 
there is always a considerable number of points of 
the compass on either side of the wind towards which 
she cannot move at all. A modern yacht will go 
within some four points of the wind. But a sailing- 
ship of the Nelson period could not go within less 
than six, nor generally within less than seven. When 
a ship is going as near the wind as she can she is 
said to be " close-hauled " on the port or the star- 
board tack according as the wind is blowing on the 
port or the starboard side of the ship. So long as 
the wind remained unchanged, therefore, there was 
always a moving area bounded by an angle of 12 
points, or 135 degrees, on the windward side of the 
ship within which she could not be propelled forward 
by sails. Within the remaining area of 20 points, 
or 225 degrees, she could by a suitable adjustment 
1 The Times, October 19, 1905. 


of her sails move freely in any direction. With these 
explanations the following table speaks for itself. 
It gives in the middle column the direction of the 
wind from each point of the compass in succession, 
and on either side the corresponding courses for a 
ship supposed to be close-hauled on the starboard and 
port tacks respectively : 








N.W. by W. 

N. by E. 

E by N. 




N.W. by N. 

N.E. by N. S. 




N. by W. 

N.E. by E. 

S.E byE. 




N. by E. 

E. by N. 

S.E. by S. 




N.E. by N. 

E. by S. 

S. by E. 




N.E. by E. 

S.E. by E. 

S. by W. 




E. by N. 

S.E. by S. 

S.W. by S. 




E. by S. 

S. by E. 

S.W. by W. 




S.E. by E. 

S. by W. 

W. by S. 




S.E. by S. 

S.W. by S. 

W. by N. 




S. by E. 

S.W. by W. 

N.W. by W. 




S. by W. 

W. by S. 

N.W. by N. 




S.W. by S. 

W. by N. 

N. by W. 




S.W. by W. 

N.W. by W. 

N. byE. 




W. by S. 

N.W. by N. 

N.E. by N. 




W. by N. 

N. by W. 

N.E. byE. 

When a ship passed from one tack to the other 
she was said to " tack " or to " wear " according as her 
first movement effected by the helm and by suitable 
adjustments of the sails was towards the direction of 


the wind or away from it. In tacking, therefore, 
she would pass through 12 points, whereas in wearing 
she would pass through 20. For the purpose of 
tacking the helm was said to be " put down," and for 
that of wearing to be " put up." Hence the phrase to 
" bear up " means that the helm is so moved as to cause 
the ship to assume a course further away from the 
direction of the wind than when she is close-hauled on 
the same tack. She is then said to be " sailing large " 
or " going free," and when she again resumes a close- 
hauled position she is said to haul her wind on the 
same tack. Thus if the wind is N.W. and the ship 
is close-hauled on the port tack her course is N.N.E. 
If she tacks she will put down her helm so as to 
turn to port and bring her head successively through 
12 points to W.S.W., whereas if she wears she will 
put up her helm so as to turn to starboard and bring 
her head successively through 20 points to the same 
point as in the former case. The difference is that in 
tacking and turning to port she cannot advance in the 
direction of any one of the 12 points between N.N.E. 
and W.S.W. ; whereas in wearing and turning to 
starboard she could if necessary pursue her course in 
the direction of any one of the 20 points through 
which she would pass if she turned completely to the 
starboard tack. Hence when a ship bears up with 
the wind at N.W. she is free to proceed in any direction 
over an arc of 225 degrees, passing through E. and S. ; 
but she cannot move forward in any direction over 
the complementary arc of 135 degrees, passing through 
N. from N.N.E. to W.S.W. The same conditions 
apply mutatis mutandis to every possible direction of 
the wind. A sailing-ship which cannot lie higher than 
six points from the wind thus always has on her wind- 
ward side an area that moves with her and is bounded 
by an angle of 135 degrees within which she cannot 
advance at all. On the other hand, she has on her lee- 
ward side an area bounded by an angle of 225 degrees 
within which she can move freely in any direction. 


Next to consider the dispositions and movements of 
a number of ships organized as a fleet. I will for 
simplicity's sake assume the ships to be disposed 
in a single line only, though the same terminology 
would apply to two or more associated lines. There 
are three possible formations in which a line of ships 
can be disposed — the " line ahead " (generally, and 
perhaps exclusively, called a column in the time of 
Nelson), the "line abreast," and the "line of bearing." 
In all these formations the intervals between the ships 
would normally be of the same length, and in the British 
Navy this length is, and was, commonly two cables or 
400 yards, the cable being taken at 200 yards or the 
tenth of a nautical mile. In the line ahead the ships 
are so disposed that their keels are all in the same 
straight line. In a line abreast they are so disposed 
that their mainmasts are all in a straight line which 
makes a right angle with their respective lines of 
keel. In a line of bearing their mainmasts are still in 
a straight line, but this line may make any angle from 
zero, which is the line ahead, up to 90 degrees, which 
is the line abreast, with their respective keels. We 
are now in a position to consider the effect on a 
fleet disposed in line ahead of an alteration of course 
whether together or in succession. If course is 
altered in succession the leading ship assumes the 
new course first, while the following ships continue 
the original course until they successively reach the 
point at which the leading ship turned, and at that 
point they successively assume the new course. Thus 
the line ahead is preserved but its direction is altered. 
If, on the other hand, course is altered together, all 
the ships turn together, thus converting the line ahead 
into a line abreast or a line of bearing according as 
the alteration of course is one of eight points or less. 
It will further be observed that if a fleet tacks or wears 
in succession the leading ship remains the leading 
ship and the rear ship the rear ship after the operation 
is concluded, and the order of ships in the line is 


unchanged ; whereas if it tacks or wears together the 
leading ship becomes the rear ship and the rear ship 
the leading ship, while the order of ships in the line is 
completely reversed. 

It only remains to disentangle the several meanings 
of the word " bear " in nautical parlance. Three of 
them, and those the most important for my purpose, 
are to be found in close juxtaposition in the following 
extract from Collingwood's Journal: "Bore up . . . 
and made all sail for the enemy . . . the British Fleet 
in two columns bearing down on them . . . made the 
signal for the lee division to form the larboard line 
oi bearing." Bearing up has already been explained. 
It is to bear up the helm so as to cause the ship to 
sail on a course further from the wind than before. 
To " bear down " is to make for a given point, as in this 
case the enemy's line, by the best available course. 
Thus in certain cases, as in the case of Trafalgar, to 
bear down might seem to mean exactly the same thing 
as to bear up, though the latter phrase properly defines 
the movement of the helm and the former the move- 
ment of the ship. To " bear from " defines relative 
position, but does not necessarily indicate movement 
at all. Thus when the lee division was ordered to 
form the larboard line of bearing the meaning was that 
each ship was to have her next ahead on her larboard, 
or port, bow and bear from it a definite number of 
points of the compass. The common course for all the 
ships would, according to the log of the Victory, be at 
the time E. by N. ; but the next ahead and the next 
astern of any ship in the line would not be disposed 
on that bearing from her. The next ahead would 
be so many points to port of her and the next astern 
the same number of points to starboard. All the 
ships of the lee division had borne up to the same 
point ; all were or should have been then bearing 
down on the same course ; each was or should have 
been bearing from her consorts at the same angle. 



THE controversy concerning "The Tactics of 
Trafalgar " which in 1905 was waged so vigo- 
rously in The Times by various writers of authority 
and repute has at least served to show that, even 
after the lapse of a hundred years, there are many 
questions still unsettled concerning the tactics pur- 
sued by Nelson and his subordinates on the memorable 
day which witnessed the victory and the death of the 
greatest of all seamen. I venture, however, to express 
the opinion that the particular issue which then formed 
the staple of the controversy in The Times is not the 
main issue to be decided, and that it is not a vital, nor 
even a very important, issue in itself. Indeed, I 
would go so far as to say that, until we can get 
outside and beyond it, we are compelled to move 
in a region of technicalities, and even trivialities, 
which, however interesting in themselves, are very 
apt to obscure and divert attention from the only 
problem which, in the interest of Nelson's fame and of 
the truth of history, it is now worth while to attempt 
to solve. The grounds for this opinion will be made 
apparent in the course of the following discussion. 
For the present, my purpose is to state the problem 
as I conceive it ought to be stated, and to indicate 
the direction in which I think we ought to look for 
its solution. Such a solution can only be tentative, 
at the best. The only evidence available, though 
copious enough, is very far from being complete, 
consentaneous, and conclusive; indeed, it is extra- 

1 The Times, September 16, 1905. 


ordinarily conflicting, and even contradictory. Any 
one who approaches it with an open mind and handles 
it in a judicial temper must acknowledge that he 
is face to face with one of the most difficult and 
tangled problems to be found in the whole range of 
naval history; and, however firmly he may be con- 
vinced that he has found a clue to the labyrinth, he 
will nevertheless acknowledge, if he keeps an open 
mind, that other students, as fair-minded as himself, 
may draw quite other conclusions from evidence 
which is so conflicting that perhaps no two critics will 
ever be found to reconcile its manifold discrepancies 
in exactly the same way. 

I cannot better state the problem, as I conceive 
it, than it was stated in The Times of July 8, 1905, in 
a comment on the address delivered by Admiral Sir 
Cyprian Bridge, at the meeting of the Navy Records 
Society — an address which afterwards became, as The 
Times anticipated that it would, the fans et origo of a 
very acute controversy : 

If we read the famous Memorandum in which Nelson 
embodied what he called " the Nelson touch " we can 
only come to the conclusion that he intended to fight 
the battle in one way. If we read the accounts of 
most historians, and still more if we look at the plans 
exhibited by them from Ekins, and James, and 
Nicolas, even down to and including Captain Mahan, 
or again, if we look at the great plan or model 
deposited in the museum of the United Service 
Institution, we are driven to the conclusion that, so 
far from fighting the battle in the way he deliberately 
intended and carefully explained to his captains, 
Nelson actually fought it in quite another way, and in 
a way which, according to the late Admiral Colomb, 
" it is hardly too much to say was the worst possible 
way." Further, if we look at the contemporary records 
of the battle contained in the logs of the several ships 
engaged, or at the contemporary comments of officers 
who were present . . . we shall find evidence so 
confusing and conflicting as almost to make at first 
sight as much for one solution as for the other. 


This ... is the great paradox which the twentieth- 
century commentator on Trafalgar must needs attempt 
to resolve. 1 

It will be seen that the twentieth-century com- 
mentator on Trafalgar has by no means an easy task 
before him. Yet, as The Times also remarked, u it 
does seem strange that the country which by common 
consent has produced the greatest sea-commander 
that the world has ever seen should have been 
content for a hundred years not to know how his last 
and greatest battle was fought." Even now I am 
far from sure that, unless fresh and decisive evidence 
should be disclosed, this knowledge is ever likely 
to be elicited in such a form as to satisfy all inquirers 
and to silence all dissentients. It is not, in my 
judgment, likely that the two conflicting theories on 
the subject will ever be completely reconciled. Each 
of the two parties to the controversy will always be 
able to appeal to the evidence which makes for the 
theory he favours, and, as this evidence cannot be 
reconciled with that which makes for the alternative 
theory— though it may be discounted as of inferior 
value — it would seem that a final harmony is unattain- 
able. On the other hand, even if we may never know 
exactly how the battle was fought, we can, I think, 
attain to something like certainty as to how it was not 
fought. It was not fought in strict and exact accordance 
with the letter of Nelson's Memorandum ; nor was it 
fought, as I think I shall be able to show, in anything 
like the fashion depicted in any of the diagrams 
referred to above in the passage quoted from The 
Times. About the first of these propositions there 
is, I think, no serious dispute; but in saying this I 
must ask leave to emphasize the phraseology I have 
used above, "in strict and exact accordance with the 
letter." Whether the battle was fought in all essential 

1 Colonel Desbriere, in his work on " Trafalgar," has done me the 
honour to cite this passage and to adopt it as the basis of his own 
examination of the problem. 


accordance with the spirit of the Memorandum or not 
is the real problem which I am to attempt to solve, 
and in the course of my attempt to solve it I hope to 
be able to establish the latter of the two propositions 
just formulated. 

It is no concession to the theory that the plan of 
the Memorandum was abandoned altogether to say 
that the battle was not fought in strict and exact 
accordance with the letter of that document. Nelson 
himself wrote, in sending the Memorandum to 
Collingwood, " I send you my plan of attack as far as 
a man dare venture to guess at the very uncertain 
position the enemy may be found in." Here he 
obviously points to the probability that the plan might 
be modified in certain details if the circumstances of 
the moment appeared to require it ; and his tactical 
intuition was so instant and so unerring that we may 
be quite sure that if, as the hour of battle approached, 
he saw any good reason for modifying the plan in 
detail he would act upon it without the slightest 
hesitation, and without the slightest regard to the 
mere letter of the Memorandum. But that is by no 
means to say that, without a word of warning, and 
even without the knowledge, then or thereafter, of 
his second-in-command, he threw to the winds the 
plan of action so carefully prepared and so fully 
explained beforehand to all concerned. " No man," 
says Captain Mahan, "was ever better served than 
Nelson by the inspiration of the moment ; no man 
ever counted on it less." It served him so well 
because he counted on it so little. " My dear friend," 
he continues, in the letter quoted above, " it is to 
place you at ease respecting my intentions, and to 
give full scope to your judgment for carrying them 
into effect." Surely no man who wrote in this way 
could ever allow himself to abandon intentions so 
solemnly declared, and to abandon them without a 
word of warning or explanation to the man in whose 
readiness to give effect to them he was expressing 


such explicit confidence. And yet this is what we 
must believe, if we are to believe that the plan of 
attack was discarded altogether when the battle 
came to be fought, and discarded in favour of a plan 
which, by common consent, was in all respects 
inferior and altogether unworthy of Nelson's tactical 

To my mind this hypothesis is absolutely untenable, 
and even well-nigh unthinkable. Before I come to close 
quarters with the evidence I will give some general 
reasons in support of this opinion. Nelson, we know, 
was a life-long student of naval tactics. In 1783, when 
he was quite a junior captain, and barely twenty-five 
years of age, Lord Hood had spoken of him as an 
officer to be consulted " on questions of naval tactics." 
At that time he had never even served with a fleet, 
and yet Lord Hood, as his correspondence shows, 
was by no means the man to bestow his praise 
indiscriminately or unworthily. It is certain that, 
in his grasp of tactical principles and of their applica- 
tion in action, Nelson was as far ahead of the ideas in 
vogue at the time as he overtopped all others in 
his consummate genius for war. He was, as we learn 
from Beatty's narrative, a frequent reader of Clerk 
of Eldin's Naval Tactics, and it is certain that the 
Memorandum we are considering was not a little 
indebted to that famous and most illuminating work, 
though, as I shall hope to show hereafter, it greatly 
improved on Clerk's methods and suggestions. 
Further, it is certain that, for months before the 
battle, Nelson was constantly looking forward to it 
as the crowning effort of his career. During his last 
stay in England it must have occupied his thoughts 
almost night and day. " Depend upon it," he said to 
Blackwood, " I shall yet give Mr. Villeneuve a drub- 
bing." On his return to the fleet in September he 
wrote to Lady Hamilton, some days before joining— 
" I am anxious to join, for it would add to my grief 
if any other man were to give them the Nelson touch 


which we say is warranted never to fail." This is 
conclusive evidence that at Merton " the Nelson touch " 
— whatever it was — was constantly under discussion 
between the Admiral and his friends, and that Lady 
Hamilton knew exactly what was meant by it. 
Further, we know that the proposed plan of action 
was propounded and explained separately to Keats, 
one of his favourite captains, and to Lord Sidmouth, 
who had been Prime Minister before Pitt returned to 
office in 1805. It was only after several years that 
the recollections of Keats and Sidmouth were recorded 
in writing ; but, though this may throw some doubt 
on their testimony in point of detail, yet their evidence 
is quite conclusive as to the fact that Nelson, during 
his last brief stay in England, was constantly revolving 
the matter in his mind. We know, too, that as soon 
as he rejoined the fleet he summoned his captains, 
and then and there explained to them what he had 
in his mind. On October 1 he writes to Lady 
Hamilton : 

I joined the fleet late on the evening of the 28th of 
September, but could not communicate with them 
until the next morning. I believe my arrival was 
most welcome, not only to the commander of the fleet, 
but also to every individual in it ; when I came to 
explain to them the " Nelson touch " it was like an 
electric shock. Some shed tears, all approved. " It 
was new — it was singular — it was simple ! " and from 
Admirals downwards it was repeated, " It must 
succeed, if ever they will allow us to get at them ! " 

A few days later, on October 9, he embodied his 
plan in the famous Memorandum, and sent a copy of 
it to Collingwood, accompanied by the letter already 
quoted. Subsequently copies of it were sent to every 
captain in the fleet. The copy delivered to Captain 
Hope, of the Defence, was endorsed as follows : " It 
was agreeable to these instructions that Lord Nelson 
attacked the combined fleets of France and Spain, off 


Cape Trafalgar, on the 21st of October, 1805." Thus 
we can trace the germ of the plan and the genesis of 
the Memorandum, from the discussions at Merton 
and the conversations with Keats and Sidmouth, down 
to the time when it was first explained verbally to the 
assembled flag-officers and captains on or before 
October 1, and finally reduced to writing and communi- 
cated to Collingwood on October 9. Is it conceivable 
that such a plan, so patiently thought out, so ex- 
haustively discussed, so carefully explained, so 
enthusiastically received, so simple and withal so 
profound as to have seemed to some of the best critics 
to be well-nigh unfathomable in its subtlety, should 
have been suddenly cast aside without a word of 
notice, warning, or explanation, in favour of another 
which no one, except perhaps James, whose tactical 
insight was beneath contempt, has yet been found to 
explain, defend, or account for ? Collingwood cer- 
tainly knew nothing of any such radical change of plan. 
In his official despatch describing the battle — a very 
cold and matter-of-fact document, which certainly does 
not err on the side of generosity towards Nelson— he 
says : " As the mode of our attack had been previously 
determined on and communicated to the flag-officers 
and captains, few signals were necessary and none 
were made except to direct close order as the lines 
bore down." It is not strictly true that no signals 
were made ; for Nelson, as we know, made several, 
including that immortal one which, as Southey says, 
" will be remembered as long as the language, or even 
the memory, of England shall endure." But what 
Collingwood appears to have meant is that no signals 
were necessary and none were made to give effect to 
the well-known and well-understood intentions of the 
Commander-in-Chief; and it is both characteristic of 
the man and corroborative of this view of his meaning 
that, when Collingwood saw the first flags of the 
famous signal ahoist, he exclaimed with some impatience, 
" I wish Nelson would stop signalling. We all know 


what we have to do." 1 This is certainly not the attitude 
of a man who, having been thoroughly seized of one 
plan, suddenly found himself called upon to carry out 
an entirely different one, of which no previous inkling 
had been given. 

But I have not yet done with Collingwood's testi- 
mony. Writing to Blackett on November 2, he said 
of Nelson, " In this affair he did nothing without my 
counsel. We made our line of battle together, and 
concerted the mode of attack, which was put in execu- 
tion in the most admirable style." Here he claims his 
own share in Nelson's plan, and declares most explicitly 
that that plan was put in execution. Again, in a letter 
to Sir Thomas Pasley, he writes on December 16, 
" Lord Nelson determined to substitute for exact order " 
— that is, for the regular line of battle, a phrase he 
uses in the next preceding sentence — " an impetuous 
attack in two distinct bodies. ... It was executed well 
and succeeded admirably." Thus, whatever other 
officers may have thought— and some of them un- 
doubtedly thought that the plan was " not acted upon," 
as Moorsom wrote— it is certain that Collingwood, the 
second in command, the life-long friend of Nelson, 

1 I cannot concur in Colonel Desbriere's interpretation of this 
exclamation of Collingwood's. He takes it to signify that Nelson's 
immortal signal was a "message qui, semble-t-il, loin de soulever 
l'enthousiasme, causa une sorte d'agacement a ceux auxquels il 
s'adressait." Collingwood was impatient, not with the signal itself, 
still less with its purport, but with the fact that any signal at all 
was being made at this juncture, because, as he said, " we all know 
what we have to do." His exclamation thus furnishes very strong 
evidence to show that he never expected Nelson to make any 
essential change in the dispositions prescribed by the Memorandum, 
and that any signal of instruction or direction made in pursuance 
of prescriptions already so well known to all must be superfluous. 
It is, indeed, well known that as soon as the signal was completed, 
it aroused the utmost enthusiasm throughout the fleet and especially 
on board the Royal Sovereign^ Collingwood's flag-ship. " When," 
says Captain Mahan, " the whole signal was known, and cheers 
resounded along the lines, Collingwood cordially expressed his own 


the man who claimed that nothing was done without 
his counsel, and that he actually concerted the plan 
with his chief, never dreamt that the plan so concerted 
had been abandoned and that a totally different plan 
had been substituted for it at the last moment. It is 
true that in his letter to Pasley he does not describe 
the plan of the Memorandum very accurately. That 
Memorandum contemplated three " distinct bodies," 
not two. Some critics — among them Mr. Henry 
Newbolt, to whom we are all indebted for his masterly 
handling of the problem in his Year of Trafalgar — 
have accordingly urged that the words in the letter to 
Pasley do not apply to the plan of the Memorandum, 
but are to be taken as evidence that Collingwood 
acknowledged that Nelson "determined to substitute" 
something else for it at the last moment — to wit, " an 
impetuous attack in two distinct bodies." I do not 
think that this contention can be sustained. It is 
disallowed, as it seems to me, by the two other passages 
cited above. It is at variance even with the context 
of the letter to Pasley itself; for Collingwood there 
says, " The weather line he commanded, and left the 
lee line totally to my direction. He had assigned the 
points to be attacked." These words refer, and can 
only refer, to the Memorandum. Nowhere else was 
any authority given to Collingwood to take the lee 
line totally under his direction. In the Memorandum 
such authority is given three times over, as if 
especially to emphasize it, and in Nelson's covering 
letter it is repeated once more. Nowhere else is any 
indication to be found of the points which Nelson 
" assigned to be attacked." On the other hand, it may, 
I think, be argued, from Collingwood's words, that 
he never fully understood the Memorandum. Very 
few, if any, of those to whom it was expounded ever 
did. Mr. Newbolt tells us that " a distinguished 
living Admiral has said that ' the simplicity and scope 
of that order have never been fully appreciated.' " But 
assuredly Collingwood, to whom the Memorandum 


was originally addressed personally, and with whom, 
as his own words show, it was discussed and even 
" concerted " much more fully than with any other 
officer in the fleet, must have known whether it was 
cancelled at the last moment or not, and whether it 
was, in his judgment, carried out in substance or not. 
His own words, official and unofficial, seem to me to 
leave no room whatever for doubt that he, at least, 
believed from first to last that the battle was fought 
in substantial accord with the plan of the Memorandum. 
I submit that this is evidence of the very first order 
and weight, only to be rebutted by stronger evidence 
of like order and of equivalent weight. But, according 
to the scales in which I weigh the matter, no such 
evidence is forthcoming. Such as there is — and there 
is plenty of it so far as mere quantity is concerned 
— is of an entirely different order and weight, con- 
clusive, perhaps, if it stood alone, but little more than 
a featherweight in scales judicially held. For surely 
in such scales nothing can outweigh the judgment 
and testimony of the second in command, who became 
commander-in-chief at the close of the day. 

It is now time to turn to the Memorandum itself, 
to consider its genesis and examine its content. But I 
must reserve that great subject for a separate chapter. 



THE "Nelson touch," as all the world knows, 
was embodied in a secret Memorandum dated 
October 9, and communicated to Collingwood on 
that date. It was subsequently communicated to 
all the captains of the fleet, its substance having 
been explained to them orally, amid great enthusiasm, 
as soon as Nelson took over the command. I did 
not quote it textually in the previous chapter, because 
its details were not necessary to that branch of the 
argument, and also because it demands, and will 
repay, full discussion on its own account. I here 
quote its text, as given in Mr. Newbolt's Year of 
Trafalgar. Mr. Newbolt explains that " the words 
in italics and in round brackets were originally 
written by Lord Nelson, but deleted in favour of 
those which follow them " : 

Secret Memorandum 

VICTORY, off Cadiz, 

October 9, 1805. 

Thinking it almost impossible to bring a fleet of 
forty Sail of the Line into a Line of Battle in variable 
winds, thick weather, and other circumstances which 
must occur, without such a loss of time that the 
opportunity would probably be lost of bringing the 
Enemy to Battle in such a manner as to make the 
business decisive, 1 have therefore made up my mind 
to keep the fleet in that position of sailing (with the 
exception of the First and Second in Command), that 
the Order of Sailing is to be the Order of Battle, 

1 The Times ^ September 19, 1905. 


placing the fleet in two Lines of Sixteen Ships each, 
with an Advanced Squadron of eight of the fastest 
sailing Two-decked Ships, [which] will always make, 
if wanted, a Line of twenty-four Sail, on whichever 
Line the Commander-in-Chief may direct. 

The Second in Command will (in fact command his 
Line and) after my intentions are made known to him, 
have the entire direction of his Line to make the 
attack upon the Enemy, and to follow up the blow 
until they are captured or destroyed. 

If the Enemy's fleet should be seen to Windward 
in Line of Battle, and that the two Lines and the 
Advanced Squadron can fetch them (/ shall suppose 
them forty-six Sail in the Line of Battle) they will 
probably be so extended that their Van could not 
succour their Rear. 

I should therefore probably make (Your) the 
Second in Command's signal to lead through, about 
their twelfth Ship from their Rear, (or wherever (You) 
he could fetch, if not able to get so far advanced) ; 
my Line would lead through about their Centre, and 
the Advanced Squadron to cut two or three or four 
Ships ahead of their Centre, so as to ensure getting 
at their Commander-in-Chief, on whom every effort 
must be made to capture. 

The whole impression of the British fleet must 
be to overpower from two or three Ships ahead of 
their Commander-in-Chief, supposed to be in the 
Centre, to the Rear of their fleet. I will suppose 
twenty Sail of the Enemy's Line to be untouched, it 
must be some time before they could perform a 
manoeuvre to bring their force compact to attack any 
part of the British fleet engaged, or to succour their 
own Ships, which indeed would be impossible without 
mixing with the Ships engaged. (Mr. Scott here 
added a reference to the following words written by 
Lord Nelson in the upper margin of the paper : " The 
Enemy's fleet is supposed to consist of 46 Sail of 
the Line, British fleet of 40. If either is less, only 
a proportionate number of Enemy's Ships are to be 
cut off; B. to be I superior to the E. cut off.") 

Something must be left to chance ; nothing is sure 
in a Sea fight beyond all others. Shot will carry 
away the Masts and Yards of friends as well as foes ; 


but I look with confidence to a Victory before the Van 
of the Enemy could succour their {friends) Rear, and 
then that the British fleet would most of them be 
ready to receive their Twenty Sail of the Line, or to 
pursue them, should they endeavour to make off. 

If the Van of the Enemy tacks, the Captured Ships 
must run to Leeward of the British Fleet ; if the 
Enemy wears, the British must place themselves 
between the Enemy and the Captured, and disabled 
British Ships ; and should the Enemy close, I have 
no fears as to the result. 

The Second in Command will in all possible things 
direct the movements of his Line, by keeping them 
as compact as the nature of the circumstances will 
admit. Captains are to look to their particular Line 
as their rallying point. But, in case Signals can 
neither be seen or perfectly understood, no Captain 
can do very wrong if he places his Ship alongside 
that of an Enemy. 

Of the intended attack from to Windward, the 
Enemy in Line of Battle ready to receive an attack : 


The divisions of the British fleet will be brought 
nearly within gunshot of the Enemy's Centre. The 
signal will most probably then be made for the Lee 
Line to bear up together, to set all their sails, even 
steering sails (in the upper margin of the paper, with 
a reference by Lord Nelson to this passage, are the 
words, " Vide instructions for Signal, Yellow with Blue 
fly, 1 Page 17, Eighth flag, Signal Book, with reference 

1 Mr. Newbolt gives "flag," but this must, I think, be a clerical 
error, as in the original MS. of the Memorandum, at present de- 
posited in the Guildhall of Tunbridge Wells, the word is "fly." 
A copy of the Signal Book referred to, which is believed to have 
belonged to Hardy, Nelson's flag-captain, and was probably the 
actual copy used by Nelson at Trafalgar, is now in the possession 
of Hardy's grandson, Commander Sir Malcolm MacGregor, R.N. 
It appears to be the only known copy which contains the signal 
indicated by Nelson. The signal is entered in MS., and runs : 


to Appendix "), in order to get as quickly as possible 
to the Enemy's Line, and to cut through, beginning 
from the 12 Ship from the Enemy's rear. Some 
Ships may not get through their exact place, but they 
will always be at hand to assist their friends ; and if 
any are thrown round the Rear of the Enemy, they 
will effectually complete the business of twelve Sail 
of the Enemy. 

Should the Enemy wear together, or bear up and 
sail large, still the Twelve Ships composing, in the 
first position, the Enemy's Rear, are to be [the] object 
of attack of the Lee Line, unless otherwise directed 
from the Commander-in-Chief, which is scarcely to 
be expected, as the entire management of the Lee 
Line, after the intentions of the Commander-in-Chief 
is [are] signified, is intended to be left to the Judgement 
of the Admiral commanding that Line. 

The remainder of the Enemy's Fleet, 34 Sail, are 
to be left to the management of the Commander-in- 
Chief, who will endeavour to take care that the 
movements of the Second in Command are as little 
interrupted as is possible. 

Nelson and Bronte. 

Only those who have paid some attention to the 
history of naval tactics during the century which 
preceded Trafalgar — so admirably elucidated by Mr. 
Julian Corbett's edition of the Fighting Instructions 
— are qualified to appreciate the height, and the 
depth, and the breadth of this immortal Memoran- 
dum, the last tactical word of the greatest master 
of sea tactics the world has ever known, the final 
and flawless disposition of sailing-ships marshalled 
for combat. The old method of fighting, which had 
prevailed throughout the eighteenth century down to 

" Cut through the enemy's line and engage close on the other side. 
N.B., this signal to be repeated by all ships." It was probably 
therefore a signal framed by Nelson himself, and ordered by him 
to be inserted in one of the blank spaces left for the purpose in 
the Signal Book. There is no reference to the Appendix in the 
Hardy copy of the Signal Book. Possibly the reference should 
have been to the words following " N.B." in the text of the signal. 


the time when Rodney, in 1782, broke the enemy's 
line in the battle off Dominica, was to attack from 
to windward in a long close-hauled line parallel to 
that of the enemy and abreast of it. The French 
always preferred the leeward position, and the English 
that to windward, with the result, as Clerk of Eldin 
puts it, in the opening paragraph of his famous work 
written in 1781, that "during the last two wars, as 
well as the present . . . when ten, twenty, or thirty 
great ships have been assembled and formed in line 
of battle ... in no one instance has ever a proper 
exertion been made, anything memorable achieved, 
or even a ship lost or won on either side." The 
line of battle had, in fact, become a fetish and the 
windward position a superstition. The English found 
themselves constantly baffled in their attempt to bring 
on a decisive engagement, and the French, who never 
wanted to bring on a decisive engagement, were as 
constantly able to haul off with little damage after 
crippling the English van, as it bore down in the 
vain attempt to form a close-hauled line within gun- 
shot to windward. Clerk showed clearly how this 
was, and suggested a remedy ; but, as his treatise, 
although immensely suggestive, is prolix and some- 
what involved, I will, in the exposition of his doctrine, 
avail myself of a very lucid summary of it given 
by Mr. David Hannay in an appendix to his edition 
of Southey's Life of Nelson : 

Clerk had shown that as long as sea-fights were 
conducted by one long line, stretching itself parallel 
to another line, so that ship was opposed to ship on 
either side, no decisive results were to be expected. 
He had shown that until our admirals took to con- 
centrating superior forces on a portion of the enemy 
and crushing it, they could never compel him to fight 
a serious battle, but would find that the French 
continued to engage to leeward with the object of 
crippling the leading ships of the English line as it 
came down to the attack, and then filing off to a safe 
distance. To prevent them doing this Clerk suggested 


to the admirals of his time that when they found 
a French fleet in order of battle to leeward of them 
they should arrange their own fleet, not in a single 
line corresponding to his, but in two or more, which 
should be kept parallel to one another, and also to 
the rear of the enemy. Then, if the enemy continued 
on the same course, the English division nearest him 
was to fall on the last ships in the French line, not 
engaging him ship to ship, according to the old rule, 
but concentrating a greater number on a less, with 
the object of overpowering the portion attacked. If 
the enemy did nothing his rear ships would be cut 
off and destroyed. It was to be presumed that he would 
endeavour to help the ships assailed. This he could 
only do in one of two ways — either by tacking and 
coming back to windward, or by wearing and coming 
back to leeward to the support of the vessels which were 
in danger of being overpowered. In either case he 
must come to a close action, and must give up the 
French device of firing at the masts, and then slipping 
away, unless of course he was prepared to sacrifice 
the ships cut off. In either case, too, whether the 
ships ahead of those attacked wore or tacked, a break 
would equally appear in the enemy's line. It would 
then be the object of the English admiral to use the 
weather line, not immediately engaged, for the purpose 
of forcing himself in between the ships cut off and 
others turning to their support. There was the 
possibility that an enemy, upon seeing that the rear 
ships of his line were menaced, might wear his whole 
fleet from end to end, thus reversing his course and 
turning what had been his rear into his van. In this 
case the same ships were still to be attacked by 
superior numbers, and it was still to be the object 
with the admiral of the weather line to prevent his 
opponent from relieving them. This would have been 
by far the more difficult task of the two, since the 
supporting ships in this case would not have to turn 
in order to come to the assistance of their friends, 
but only to press on in the direction they were already 
following, and no gap would occur in their formation. 

The close resemblance between the principles 
enunciated by Clerk of Eldin and those embodied 


in the Trafalgar Memorandum will here be apparent ; 
but I venture to think that the latter portion of the 
above extract, that dealing with the possibility of the 
enemy's wearing his whole fleet before the attack 
could be delivered, was suggested to Mr. Hannay by 
the Memorandum itself rather than by anything to 
be found in Clerk's own exposition. Clerk did take 
note of the contingency that the enemy might wear 
his whole line, but he seemed to think that this was 
only likely to take place after the rear had been 
attacked, so that the ships attacked could not them- 
selves wear, and, being in action, would probably 
fall astern of the ships ahead of them before the latter 
began to wear. In that case he showed how the 
enemy's manoeuvre could be foiled. But Nelson's 
plan, as I understand it, differed fundamentally from 
this. Clerk's diagrams all represent the attacking 
ships as coming up from astern and delivering their 
attack as soon as they fetched the ships to be attacked 
at the rear of the enemy's line. He seemed to think 
that not more than three ships, or four at the outside, 
could be fetched in this manner. He assumed that 
the enemy, having formed his line, was " keeping 
under an easy sail, with the intention of receiving 
the usual attack from another fleet of equal number," 
and he recommended that three or, if possible, four 
ships should be attacked by superior numbers in the 
first instance, relying on subsequent manoeuvres, first 
of the enemy, and secondly of the assailant, to make 
the action a general and decisive one. Nelson, on 
the other hand, proposed to reserve his attack until 
the three divisions in which his fleet was to be 
organized had been " brought nearly within gunshot 
of the enemy's centre." This is an immense develop- 
ment of Clerk's original conception, which appears 
to me to have been overlooked not merely by 
Mr. Hannay, but by so high an authority as Sir 
Reginald Custance, in an article on " Naval Tactics " 
contributed to the Naval Annual for 1905. The 


classical instance of an attack on the rear is, says 
Admiral distance, Trafalgar, " and is due to Clerk 
of Eldin, whose plan Nelson adopted and made his 
own.'' Nelson did make it his own, but in so doing 
he stamped his own genius indelibly upon it. The 
improvement he effected was very likely suggested 
by Rodney's experience in his engagement with De 
Guichen in 1780. There Rodney intended to attack 
De Guichen's rear, and bore down with his whole 
force for the purpose. But De Guichen, divining his 
intention, immediately wore his whole fleet. Rodney 
then hauled up on the same tack as the enemy, but, 
being now abreast of the new rear of the latter, he 
again ordered what he intended to be a fresh attack 
of his whole force on the rear. This was frustrated 
by some ambiguity in his signals and by the inability 
of his captains to understand that what Rodney 
wanted was a concentrated attack on the rear, and 
not a dispersed attack in the old indecisive fashion 
on the whole line. De Guichen, perceiving what 
Rodney intended in the first instance, exclaimed that 
six or seven of his ships were gone, and afterwards 
sent Rodney word that, had his (Rodney's) signals 
been obeyed, he himself would have been his prisoner. 
If the tactical insight of Rodney's captains had been 
equal to that of the French Commander-in-Chief, there 
seems to be little doubt that this result would have 

It was Rodney's misfortune not to be properly 
supported on this occasion. But it would seem that 
he gave so wary an opponent as De Guichen an 
opportunity, which was promptly seized, by bearing 
up at too great a distance from the enemy's line, so 
that De Guichen had time to wear before the attack 
could be delivered. Nelson sought to avoid this 
counterstroke partly by adopting Clerk's suggestion — 
which had not yet been propounded when Rodney 
fought De Guichen — of disposing his fleet in three 
divisions, and partly by bringing all his divisions 


abreast of the enemy's centre, " nearly within gunshot," 
before making the signal for the lee line to bear up. 
The next stage of his plan appears to owe nothing 
to Clerk, who, in his " Mode of Attack proposed," said 
nothing about breaking the enemy's line and engaging 
him to leeward. This part of Nelson's plan was 
probably derived partly from Rodney's famous action 
off Dominica in 1782, and partly from Lord Howe's 
action of the First of June 1794. At the action off 
Dominica Rodney broke the enemy's line — thus re- 
viving a manoeuvre which had been in vogue in the 
Dutch wars, but had since fallen into disrepute — not 
by original tactical intention, but by seizing at the 
nick of time an opportunity afforded him by a sudden 
change in the wind ; and he apparently did so, not 
on his own initiative, but at the suggestion, not too 
readily entertained by him in the first instance, of his 
chief of the staff The overwhelming effect of this 
manoeuvre in destroying the enemy's cohesion once 
more brought it into tactical repute, and it was repeated 
— though, as Mr. Julian Corbett has shown, with 
a fundamental difference — by Lord Howe in the action 
of the First of June. Even when the latter action 
was fought the line was not yet dethroned in favour 
of some such formation as Clerk had suggested, but 
it was to be employed in a much more deadly and 
decisive fashion than that which Clerk had so vigor- 
ously assailed. Rodney, it is true, had discarded the 
old ship-to-ship engagement of the Fighting Instruc- 
tions. He declared himself that during all his com- 
mands " he made it a rule to bring his whole force 
against a part of the enemy's, and never was so 
absurd as to bring ship against ship, when the enemy 
gave him an opportunity of acting otherwise." But 
he had not discarded the line. Neither did Howe, who 
formed his line on the First of June with characteristic 
precision. Rodney, again, apparently had no thought 
of breaking the line in the action off Dominica in any 
other place than that which opportunity offered him 


at the moment. He seems to have expected that all 
the ships astern of him in the line would follow him 
through the gap he had made and attack the ships 
of the enemy's rear in succession. Five ships did 
follow him, but the sixth, finding a similar opportunity 
due to the same cause, promptly seized it, and was 
followed by all the remaining ships astern. Thus 
De Grasse's line was broken in two places almost 
simultaneously and its cohesion totally destroyed. 
But in both cases it was broken by taking advantage 
of the accident of opportunity, and not with any tact- 
ical intent, formulated and thought out beforehand. 
Nevertheless the accident was full of lessons, and 
Howe was the very man to profit by them, and even 
to better them. He must have noted the advantage 
gained by breaking the line in two places instead 
of one. He must have drawn the inference that, if 
it could be broken in all places, the advantage gained 
by breaking it would be raised to its maximum, and 
this was what he set himself to do on the First of 
June. Forming his line parallel to that of the enemy 
and abreast of it, he ordered his ships to bear up 
together, to break through the line simultaneously, 
and then to engage the enemy to leeward, each ship 
taking its appointed adversary in the enemy's line. 
It was, as Mr. Corbett suggests, probably this masterly 
development of the lessons taught by Rodney's 
famous action that was in Nelson's mind when he 
called Howe " the first and the greatest sea-officer the 
world has ever produced . . . our greatest master 
in naval tactics and bravery." 

We can now trace in outline the genesis of Nelson's 
great conception ; its full content I must leave to be 
examined in a third chapter. The attack on the enemy's 
rear was manifestly derived from Clerk of Eldin, as 
was also the proposed disposition of the fleet in three 
divisions. But Nelson aimed higher than Clerk, and 
saw his way to attack twelve ships of the rear instead 
of three or four, and to attack them in superior force. 


Next, warned, perhaps, by the comparative failure of 
Rodney's attack on De Guichen, he provided that the 
division told off for the first onslaught should be 
brought "nearly within gunshot" of the enemy before 
bearing up. By this means he apparently hoped that, 
since his fleet was still to be kept in the order of 
sailing and not to assume the recognized order of 
battle, the enemy would hesitate to take any steps 
to frustrate an intention which they would not be 
able to divine, as De Guichen had divined and 
frustrated the intentions of Rodney. u I think it will 
surprise and confound the enemy," he said to Keats. 
" They won't know what I am about." Lastly, for 
the actual attack to be made by the lee line, he 
adopted Rodney's manoeuvre of breaking the line, as 
developed and perfected by Howe. Rodney, in fact, 
had shown, more or less accidentally, the immense 
advantage of breaking the line. Howe had shown 
how it could be done with the greatest certainty and 
effect. Mr. Julian Corbett — to whom in this analysis 
I am indebted at every point — has pointed out that 
Rodney's attack could always be parried "by the 
enemy's standing away together on the same tack. 
By superior gunnery Howe's attack might be stopped, 
but by no possibility could it be avoided except by 
flight." Nelson's express instructions to the lee line 
are "to set all their sails" so as "to get as quickly 
as possible to the enemy's line and to cut through, 
beginning from the twelfth ship from the enemy's 
rear." This is plainly Howe's manoeuvre, not 
Rodney's ; for the lee line would now be in line 
abreast, and Nelson goes on to say "some ships may 
not get through their exact place " ; whereas in 
Rodney's manoeuvre the ships would be in line ahead 
and would all pass through at the same place. 



WE have now to examine the content of the 
Memorandum in detail. It is rather clumsily 
worded, for Nelson was no very skilful penman, and 
it is not very lucidly arranged. But we shall find little 
difficulty in disengaging its leading ideas. In the first 
place there is the great idea, which amounts to nothing 
less than the dethronement of the line of battle — the 
final destruction of that fetish, the worship of which, 
according to Clerk of Eldin, had sterilized the tactics 
of British Fleets during three successive wars in the 
eighteenth century. Nelson, as Mr. Julian Corbett has 
shown, had early abandoned this antiquated form of 
worship. In his final Memorandum he inaugurated 
a new ritual, which, had his successors in what 
remained of the sailing-ship period been men of his 
calibre, must have become universal in all its essential 
principles, though it might have been improved and 
developed in some of its details. For cruising pur- 
poses fleets were not disposed in order or line of 
battle. They were disposed in " order of sailing," 
which usually consisted of two or more columns or 
divisions disposed abeam of one or another. These 
divisions were generally three, designated respectively 
the van, the centre, and the rear, to indicate the 
positions they were to assume when the line of battle 
was to be formed. Now, the transformation of the 
order of sailing — whether in two columns or more — 
into a single line of battle was an evolution that 
1 The Times ; September 22, 1905. 

33 * 


necessarily required time for its completion — in some 
cases a very considerable time, and in most cases, an 
amount of time that could ill be spared. It was, says 
Nelson, "almost impossible to bring a Fleet . . . into a 
Line of Battle in variable winds, thick weather, and 
other circumstances which must occur, without such a 
loss of time that the opportunity would probably be 
lost of bringing the Enemy to Battle in such a manner 
as to make the business decisive." This, then, was 
the first reason why Nelson abandoned the line 
of battle. He grudged the time wasted in forming it ; 
for, as Captain Mahan says somewhere, he never 
trifled with a fair wind or with time. But there was a 
much deeper reason than that. He held, with Clerk of 
Eldin, that the line of battle was a very bad formation 
for fighting " in such a manner as to make the business 
decisive." Hence, having abandoned the single line 
he determined to dispose his fleet in such an order of 
sailing that it might become the order of battle with- 
out any further change of formation. The order of 
sailing devised for the purpose w T as in form that 
suggested by Clerk of Eldin, but in substance some- 
thing quite different. Clerk had assigned no special 
functions — beyond that of containing the enemy's van 
as best they might — to the two weathermost of the 
three divisions in which he disposed his attacking fleet, 
and his whole conception was that of an attack from 
to windward. Nelson was much more explicit, and 
his disposition provided for the alternative of an attack 
from to leeward as well as for that of an attack from 
to windward. Assuming that his fleet would consist of 
forty ships, he proposed to place it " in two Lines 
of Sixteen Ships each, with an Advanced Squadron of 
eight of the fastest sailing Two-decked Ships, which 
will always make, if wanted, a Line of twenty-four Sail, 
on whichever Line the Commander-in-Chief may 
direct." I shall consider hereafter how far, and why, 
Nelson modified this disposition on the day of battle. It 
suffices to observe here that no independent function 


was assigned to this " advanced squadron." It was to 
be kept in hand, so that, " if wanted," it could at any 
moment reinforce either, or possibly both, of the two 
other divisions. 

Next we have the very pregnant idea of giving the 
second in command " the entire direction of his Line 
to make the attack upon the Enemy, and to follow up 
the blow until they are captured or destroyed." This 
was to take effect "after my intentions are made 
known to him." As this idea is repeated no fewer 
than three times in the Memorandum, and forms the 
keynote of the covering letter in which Nelson sent the 
Memorandum to Collingwood, it is manifest that Nelson 
attached the utmost importance to it. There may be 
some question as to what particular time is meant by 
the words, " after my intentions are made known to 
him " — whether from the date at which Collingwood 
received the Memorandum or from some time on the 
morning of the battle, when some signal made by 
Nelson clearly indicated what his final intentions were. 
In the latter alternative, I do not think that we can put 
the time later than that when Nelson first made the 
general signal to " bear up and sail large " — though 
whether this signal was an order to bear up in succes- 
sion or to bear up together is, as all students of the 
subject know, a much-debated question, which I do not 
attempt to prejudge here. In any case, if we collate 
the three passages in which this idea is embodied in the 
Memorandum and compare them with Collingwood's 
words already quoted, both from his official despatch 
and from his private letters, we shall, I think, conclude 
that the better opinion is that Collingwood was to have 
" the entire management of the lee line " from the very 
first moment when the engagement was seen to be in- 
evitable. In other words, Collingwood enjoyed a free 
hand, subject to the general directions of the Memo- 
randum, not merely in the attack, but in the advance as 

Be this as it may, the principle involved is one of 


supreme importance. The breaking up of the tradi- 
tional line of battle into two or more divisions, to which 
different functions were assigned, seems to involve as 
a necessary consequence the enlargement of the 
initiative of subordinate leaders of divisions. It was 
clear to Nelson that, having assigned to Collingwood 
the task of attacking the rear of the enemy's line, 
and to himself the far more important duty of taking 
care that Collingwood's movements were interfered 
with as little as possible, he would best further the ob- 
jects of both by not even interfering with Collingwood 
himself. If, as Collingwood says, the Commander- 
in-Chief broke through the enemy's line " about the 
tenth ship from the van, and the second in com- 
mand about the twelfth from the rear," and if, as the 
French naval historian Chevalier records, there was 
a gap of a mile, or of anything like a mile, about 
the centre of the combined fleet, the leading ships 
of the two British divisions must have been at least 
two miles apart at the time when Collingwood first 
came into action. At this distance it would be far from 
easy for Nelson, having his own business in hand, 
to keep in close touch with the detailed proceedings 
of Collingwood's division, or with the circumstances 
which from time to time determined them. He foresaw 
that this would be the case, and made provision for it 
by thrice repeating in the Memorandum that the entire 
management of the lee line would be left to the 
judgment of the admiral commanding that line. In 
like manner, in his conversation with Keats, he ex- 
plained how he then proposed to employ the advanced 
squadron ; but he added, " If circumstances prevent 
their being employed against the enemy where I desire 
I shall feel certain he " — that is, the officer in command 
of them — "will employ them effectually and perhaps in 
a far more advantageous manner than if he could have 
followed my orders." Thus the independent initiative 
of subordinate flag-officers in separate command of 
divisions was something like a fixed idea with Nelson. 


He himself had shown the importance of such inde- 
pendent initiative in the battle of St. Vincent, the great 
action which laid the foundation of his fame. By 
wearing his own ship at the critical moment without 
waiting for orders, and throwing it athwart the Spanish 
line of advance, he saved the situation, redressed what 
many critics have regarded as a grave tactical blunder 
on the part of Jervis, and, if he did not actually win the 
action himself, he, at any rate, made it far more easy 
for Jervis to win it and to make it much more complete 
than it might otherwise have been. He was not, indeed, 
at that time a flag-officer, nor was he, as a commodore, 
in separate command of a division. He had no 
authority, express or implied, to act as he did. But, 
without waiting for an order which he knew ought to 
be given, and even in defiance of the prescribed rules 
for preserving. the line of battle, he saw the right thing 
to do, and did it without a moment's hesitation. 
Calder, Jervis's chief of the staff, could only see in such 
an act an unauthorized departure from the method of 
attack prescribed by the admiral, and he said as much 
to Jervis in the evening. But Jervis, as stern a discipli- 
narian as ever walked a quarter-deck, saw much deeper. 
Recognizing the consummate tactical intuition displayed 
by Nelson and the superb fearlessness of responsibility 
which prompted him to act on it instantly without 
waiting for orders, he replied, " It certainly was so, 
and if ever you commit such a breach of your orders, 
I will forgive you also." Was it not the remembrance 
of this famous day that induced Nelson to resolve that 
his subordinates should have the freedom that he then 
took ? If there were more Jervises there might even 
be more Nelsons ; but if there were more Calders there 
would certainly be no Trafalgars. 

The next few paragraphs of the Memorandum need 
not detain us long. They provide for the case in 
which the enemy should be seen to windward in line 
of battle, so that the British attack would have to 
be made from to leeward ; for Nelson, although he 


evidently preferred the attack from to windward, 
which he spoke of as "the intended attack," was true 
to his own principle of not wasting time in manoeuvring 
for position — "a day is soon lost in that business," he 
had said in an earlier memorandum — and was prepared 
to take the situation as he found it. But, as he found 
the enemy to leeward at Trafalgar, this part of the 
Memorandum is not pertinent to the present inquiry, 
though it is not without a profound tactical interest of 
its own. At the close of this section of the Memor- 
andum, however, there is one paragraph which seems 
to have a more general application. It begins with a 
repetition of the provision that the second in command 
is in all possible things to direct the movements of his 
line, and then goes on as follows : " Captains are to 
look to their particular Line as their rallying point. 
But, in case Signals can neither be seen or perfectly 
understood, no Captain can do very wrong if he places 
his Ship alongside that of an Enemy." Here, again, is 
a manifest reminiscence of Nelson's own action at St. 
Vincent — for us, at any rate, if not for himself. Signals 
might not be seen or might not be understood. There 
was a memorable instance of a signal not being seen 
at Copenhagen. At St. Vincent no signal was mis- 
understood, but Nelson could not understand why a 
certain signal was not made, and, as he knew it ought 
to be made, he acted as if it had been made. He 
resolved that at Trafalgar every captain should by 
his orders enjoy the liberty that he took at St. Vincent 
without orders. 

Lastly we come to the kernel of the whole Memo- 
randum, "the intended attack from to windward, the 
Enemy in Line of Battle ready to receive an attack." 
To emphasize this, his chosen plan of action if fortune 
favoured him with the choice, Nelson himself illustrated 
it by a simple diagram. It will be noted in this 
diagram that the so-called " advanced squadron " is no 
more ahead of the weather line than the latter is of 
the lee line. On the assumption that the enemy's line 


is close-hauled and that the three divisions of the 
British fleet are, therefore, close-hauled on the same 
tack also, the wind would be about 6 or 7 points 
on the weather bow of all four lines — that is, at an 
angle of 6y\ or 78% degrees. In that case it would 
seem that Nelson in his diagram showed his three 
divisions as they would be disposed in the order of 
sailing when " sailing by the wind," because in that 
condition, as Admiral Bridge has explained, the column 
leaders were not abeam of each other, but bore from 
one another in the direction of the wind. This being 
so, it is not very easy to see why the " advanced 
squadron " was so called, but perhaps the explanation 
is that suggested by Admiral Bridge — namely, that the 
designation was due to the mode in which Nelson in- 
tended to employ, and actually did employ, the ships 
composing this squadron in, "feeling for" the enemy. 
They were to be an advanced squadron in the days 
preceding the battle ; on the day of battle they were 
to be a light division not otherwise disposed than 
the other two, but to be employed as circumstances 
might require. In the conversation with Keats Nelson 
expressed the intention of keeping them " always to 
windward or in a situation of advantage." In the 
Memorandum they are shown to windward, indeed, 
but not otherwise disposed than they would be if the 
order of sailing were in three divisions. On the day 
of battle, as we shall see, the advanced squadron was 
broken up and distributed between the other two divi- 
sions. Nelson apparently satisfied himself that the time 
had then already come for disposing of them in 
accordance with the intentions indicated in the first 
paragraph of the Memorandum, not indeed in strength- 
ening one division or the other, but in strengthening 
both, though in different proportions. 

As the so-called advanced squadron had thus 
disappeared on the day of battle, I need only consider 
henceforth the function assigned to the two divisions 
of the fleet. We have seen what the lee line was 


to do, Nelson's own words having already been 
quoted. It was to bear up together, set all sail, and 
attack the rear of the enemy in superior force, breaking 
his line as far as might be simultaneously, after the 
method adopted by Howe, so that each ship should as 
far as possible pass through the interval in the enemy's 
line corresponding to its own position in its own line. 
"Some Ships may not get through their exact place 
but they will always be at hand to assist their friends ; 
and if any are thrown round the Rear of the Enemy 
they will effectually complete the business of twelve 
Sail of the Enemy." The precise function of the lee 
line is thus clearly defined, and the evolutions most 
likely to conduce to the effective discharge of that 
function are exactly, albeit provisionally, prescribed. 
But what was to be the function of the weather line ? 
The answer to this question is contained in what 
is at once the shortest and most pregnant paragraph 
in the whole Memorandum. u The remainder of the 
Enemy's Fleet . . . are to be left to the management of 
the Commander-in-Chief, who will endeavour to take 
care that the movements of the Second in Command 
are as little interrupted as is possible." There is no 
question here of bearing up or not bearing up, or 
of any other specific evolution whatever. Nelson 
reserved his absolute freedom of action, subject to 
the paramount condition that the work of the lee line 
was to be immune from interruption until its object — 
the crushing of the enemy's rear — had been attained. 
In other words, just as the sole function of the lee 
line was to concentrate in superior force on the rear, 
so the primary function of the weather line was to 
contain the centre and the van. But not its sole 
function, though Nelson says not a word about its 
ulterior purpose. Undoubtedly that must have been 
by close fighting to "complete the business" of as 
many ships of the enemy's centre as possible, leaving 
the van to do its worst, which could not be much, 
since by the hypothesis it was to be contained and 


thrown out of action. This being so, it seems idle to 
consider in what formation Nelson's line was — whether 
in line ahead, line abreast, or line of bearing— when at 
last he bore down to the attack. Whatever it was, 
we may be quite sure that it was the best formation 
that could be adopted, in the circumstances, for 
securing the primary purpose of containing the enemy's 
van and centre until Collingwood's ships had done 
their work, and that, if in adopting it Nelson exposed 
his ships to greater risk of damage than some other 
formation might have involved, he did so for the very 
good reason that he cared more, in the first instance, 
for the success of Collingwood's attack than for the 
immunity of his own line ; knowing full well that, 
if only he could contain the van and throw it out 
of action — as he did— the ultimate victory must be 
in his hands. The officer of the Conqueror — to whose 
criticism, singularly acute but manifestly influenced by 
parti pris, nearly all the controversy concerning the 
tactics of Trafalgar is due — frankly assumes that, " if 
the regulated plan of attack had been adhered to, the 
English fleet should have borne up together and have 
sailed in a line abreast in their respective divisions 
until they arrived up with the enemy." It is not for 
me to say whether this would or would not have been 
a better plan than Nelson's, but I think I have shown 
beyond all manner of doubt that it was not Nelson's. 

In sum, then, I think we may concur in the main 
in Mr. Julian Corbett's conclusion, that Nelson's plan 
of attack as expounded in the Memorandum — and, 
though I say it with fear and trembling, as carried out 
substantially in action — was an exceedingly subtle, and 
not less original, combination of the several ideas of 
concentration on the rear, of complete freedom of 
action for the second in command, of containing the 
enemy's van and centre until the business of twelve 
sail of the enemy was seen to be so far advanced that its 
interruption was no longer to be feared, and, above all, 
of the concealment of his own intentions until the last 


possible moment, so as to confuse the enemy's mind 
by not letting him know where and how the attack of 
the weather line was to be delivered. No one of these 
ideas is, perhaps, entirely new except the last. I have 
shown that the genesis of some of them can be traced 
a long way back in the tactical history of the eighteenth 
century. Their combination was, no doubt, Nelson's 
own, but what was far more his own was the moral 
and psychological idea which binds them all together 
and displays Nelson's genius at its highest. The plan 
outlined in conversation with Keats differs in several 
important respects from that expounded in the Memo- 
randum, either because Keats misunderstood it to 
some extent, or because Nelson's great conception 
had matured before the Memorandum was composed. 
But the innermost thought in Nelson's mind is, 
perhaps, better displayed than anywhere else in what 
he said to Keats : " I will tell you what I think of 
it. I think it will surprise and confound the enemy. 
They won't know what I am about. It will bring 
forward a pell-mell battle, and that is what I want." 
That is the true " Nelson touch." Yet perhaps the 
most astounding thing in the whole story is the fact 
that, as Mr. Julian Corbett has pointed out, Villeneuve 
had divined almost exactly the kind of attack that 
Nelson was most likely to make. In his General 
Instructions, issued in anticipation of the battle, he 
had written : "The enemy will not confine themselves 
to forming a line parallel to ours. They will try to 
envelop our rear, to break our line, and to throw 
upon those of our ships that they cut off groups 
of their own to surround and crush them." That he 
could devise no better mode of parrying such an 
attack than a single and ill-formed line of battle is 
perhaps the chief reason why Villeneuve, in spite 
of the gallantry of his fleet, was so thoroughly 
11 drubbed " at Trafalgar. 



HAVING now analysed the Memorandum, traced 
its genesis, and examined its content, we have 
next to consider its application. In the first place we 
have to bear in mind that, as Admiral Bridge has said, 
" advancing to the attack and the attack itself are not 
the same operations." The two are, however, con- 
tinuous, and there is no one point in the series of 
events to be considered at which we can say that the 
advance ended and the attack began — more especially 
as, in the case before us, the attack of the lee line 
was, and was intended to be, anterior to the attack 
of the weather line. Perhaps the best point of 
distinction is that which is indicated in the Memo- 
randum itself. " The divisions of the British Fleet will 
be brought nearly within gunshot of the Enemy's 
Centre" — this is the advance. " The signal will most 
probably then be made for the Lee Line to bear up 
together, to set all their sails, even steering sails, in 
order to get as quickly as possible to the Enemy's Line, 
and to cut through " — this is the opening of the attack. 
It is with the advance alone that I shall deal in 
the present chapter. 

The first point to be noted is that, in the final order 
of sailing, which was also, as prescribed by the 
Memorandum, the order of battle, the so-called ad- 
vanced squadron had disappeared. It had indeed been 
formed and had been employed as an advanced 
squadron proper — that is, as Admiral Bridge puts it, " in 
feeling for the enemy" — during the days and nights 
immediately preceding the battle. Mr. Corbett, in 
his invaluable edition of the Fighting Instructions, 
1 The Times, September 26, 1905. 


traces at length the formation and proceedings of this 
advanced squadron, but for my purpose it is sufficient 
to quote the concise statement of Admiral Bridge : 

On October 19 six ships were ordered " to go ahead 
during the night" ; and besides the frigates two more 
ships were so stationed as to keep up the communi- 
cation between the six and the Commander-in-Chiefs 
flagship. Thus eight ships in effect composed an 
"advanced squadron," and did not join either of the 
main divisions at first. 

The majority of them were recalled on October 20, 
but three still remained detached, to form a chain 
between the Admiral and his frigates. Throughout 
the night of the 20th Nelson was thus kept fully 
informed of every movement of the enemy, and 
regulated the movements of his own fleet accordingly. 
When, however, the detached ships were recalled, 
they did not, as prescribed by the Memorandum, 
re-form into a separate division, but took their re- 
spective stations — no doubt as previously determined, 
though there appears to be no record of an order 
or signal to that effect — in one or other of the two 
main divisions. Codrington, of the Orion, which was 
one of the advanced squadron, seems to have thought 
that, although that squadron had been merged in 
the two main divisions, yet it might, at a later stage 
of the advance, be ordered to haul out of line again 
and re-form as a separate division for the purpose of 
checking the enemy's van. But this intention, if it 
existed, was never carried out, Nelson himself making 
a feint at the van, apparently with his whole division, 
before he finally hauled to starboard and broke the 
enemy's line astern of the Bucentaure. 

Why Nelson thus abandoned his original idea of 
a separate advanced squadron it seems impossible now 
to say. But it is worth while to reflect that, when 
he drew up the Memorandum, he assumed that his 
fleet would consist of " forty Sail of the Line," and the 
enemy's of forty-six. The actual numbers were twenty- 


seven to thirty-three. With forty ships, he proposed 
to have two divisions of sixteen ships each, and a 
third of eight ships. With twenty-seven ships, 
the nearest corresponding proportions would be two 
divisions of ten and eleven ships respectively, and 
a third of six. Now, he had prescribed that " if either 
is less, only a proportionate number of Enemy's Ships 
is to be cut off; B. to be J superior to the E. cut off." 
In this case the lee division, even if it consisted 
of eleven ships, would only be able to cut off eight 
of the enemy — or nine at the outside, if the pre- 
scribed superiority of one-quarter were fractionally 
reduced. Nelson may have considered that, in these 
circumstances, it was better to strengthen the lee line 
from the outside to such an extent that it would still 
be able to "complete the business of twelve Sail of the 
Enemy." He accordingly gave it fifteen ships, thus 
reducing the third division to two only, and these 
he attached to his own division, since they were 
insufficient to form a separate one. In point of fact, 
having regard to the reduced numbers of both fleets 
and the reduced proportion between his own numbers 
and those of the enemy, he found that he had not 
ships enough to form a third division without so 
reducing the weight of the attack of the lee line as to 
upset the balance of his plan. The advanced squadron, 
if it had been retained, was to have been under the 
orders of the Commander-in-Chief, and to be so em- 
ployed as to "make, if wanted, a Line of twenty-four 
Sail, on whichever Line the Commander-in-Chief may 
direct" What he did actually direct, not in the course 
of the advance but beforehand, was, for the major part 
of it, to make a line of fifteen sail under Collingwood's 
orders. I am the more inclined to adopt this ex- 
planation of the matter, because, whereas Nelson told 
Keats that he should put the proposed third division 
"under an officer who, I am sure, will employ them in 
the manner I wish," he does not seem ever to have 
told off any officer for what Keats called "this 


distinguished service." He discharged that function 
himself, by putting the bulk of the advanced squadron 
into Collingwood's line, before the action, or even the 
advance, began, and the residue into his own. 

Be this as it may, at 6.30 on the morning of 
October 21 the signal was made, according to 
Collingwood's Journal, " to form the order of sailing 
in two columns, and at 7 to prepare for battle." 
Taken together, these two signals form the first stage of 
the advance, since the order of sailing was to be the 
order of battle. It is clear from the logs that the 
order of sailing had been much deranged during the 
night, and the signal would have the effect, not only 
of correcting this derangement so far as time and 
circumstances allowed, but recalling to their appointed 
stations such ships of the line as were still detached for 
lookout purposes. 1 What the precise order of sailing 
was, however, it is exceedingly difficult to determine. 
Collingwood, in his official despatch, gives it as 
follows : 

Van. Rear. 

1. Victory, 1,1,1 1. Royal Sovereign , 1,1,1 

2. Temeraire, 2, 2, 2 2. Mars, 4, 3, 3 

3. Neptune, 3, 3, 3 3. Belleisle, 2, 2, 2 

4. Conqueror, 4, 5, 6 4. Tonnant, 3, 4, 5 

5. Leviathan, 5, 4, 5 5. Bellerophon, 5, 5, 6 

6. Ajax, 7, 8, 8 6. Colossus, 6, 6, 4 

7. Orion, 8, 9, 9 7. Achilles, 7, 7, 7 

8. Agamemnon, 9, 7, 7 8. Polyphemus, 14, 9, 8 

9. Minotaur, 10, 10, 10 9. Revenge, 8, 10, 9 

10. Spartiate, 11, 11, 11 10. Swiftsure, 10, 11, 11 

11. Britannia, 6,6,4 JI - Defence, 12, 15, 13 

12. Africa, 12, 12 12. Thunderer, 11, 13, 14 

13. Defiance, 9, 12, 15 

14. Prince, 15, 14, 12 

15. Dreadnought, 13, 8, 10 

1 Colonel Desbriere adduces abundant proof from the French and 
Spanish archives examined by him that the British fleet, when first 
sighted by the allies, was in no very regular order. The expression 
used to describe it by several observers in the allied line is that 
it appeared to be in two " pelotons," that is, in two more or less 
irregular groups. 


It is certain, however, that Collingwood's order is 
not strictly correct. The journal of the Britannia, 
describing the attack of the weather line, led by Nelson 
in the Victory, states that " he was close followed up 
by the Temeraire, Neptune, Conqueror, Leviathan, 
and this ship"; and there is evidence to show that 
some of the other ships are misplaced. In the log 
of the Britannia, which was the flagship of Rear- 
Admiral Lord Northesk, a list of the ships, with the 
amount of loss in killed and wounded sustained by 
each, is given, and the order in that list differs 
materially from that given by Collingwood, especially 
in respect of the lee line. I have indicated this order 
in the first of the series of figures placed after the 
names of the ships in Collingwood's list. The second 
series of figures indicates the order given by Sir John 
Laughton in his Nelson, and the third that given by 
Mr. Newbolt in his Year of Trafalgar. The truth is 
that, the ships having been ordered to make all sail, 
the order of the rear ships in both lines was very 
irregular, being dependent on their rate of sailing. 
"All our ships were carrying studding sails," says 
Moorsom, "and many bad sailers were a long way 
astern, but little or no stop was made for them." 
Hence the order may have changed from time to time, 
as the faster ships got ahead and the slower ships fell 
astern of their stations. The Africa never took her 
proper station. She had got away to the northward 
during the night, and only rejoined the weather line 
just as the action began, having in so doing run down 
the whole of the enemy's van within gunshot. The 
Prince also was a very slow ship, and never reached 
the lee line. After having recorded the signal for 
close action, which was the very last that Nelson 
made, she logs herself as " steering down between the 
lines with all sail set." She was the last ship into 
action, opening fire after 3 p.m. and losing neither 
killed nor wounded throughout the day. 
Thus, however the lines were formed, whether in 


line ahead or line of bearing, there is, I think, no 
doubt that they were very irregularly formed, and 
that the slower ships straggled greatly. " Admiral 
Collingwood dashed directly down," says Moorsom, 
11 supported by such ships as could get up, and went 
directly through their line; Lord Nelson the same, 
and the rest as fast as they could." It may be argued, 
and has been argued, from this that Nelson was in 
too great a hurry. That he was in a great hurry is 
not to be disputed. But the Memorandum is founded 
on the necessity of not losing a moment, if the enemy 
was to be brought to battle " in such a manner as 
to make the business decisive." The allied fleet was 
heading for Cadiz. Though the wind was light and 
variable throughout the day, a gale was imminent, 
as Nelson well knew. The days were shortening, 
and even in those latitudes the sun would set on 
October 21 very soon after five o'clock. "No day 
could be long enough," he had told Keats, " to arrange 
a couple of fleets and fight a decisive battle according 
to the old system." He was determined to make a 
short October day long enough to give Mr. Villeneuve 
his " drubbing." Was there any time to spare ? Was 
he in too great a hurry ? The answer is given in that 
quaint, but pathetic, entry in the Victory's own log 
which records the triumphant close of the day in all 
its tragedy. " Partial firing continued until 4.30, when 
a victory having been reported to the Right Honour- 
able Lord Viscount Nelson, K.B. and Commander-in- 
Chief, he then died of his wound." " Thank God, I 
have done my duty," were his last words, oftentimes 
repeated. Would he have done his duty if he had 
wasted in manoeuvring a single moment that could 
be saved for beating the enemy before the day was 
gone ? 

A very few minutes — not more than five, according 
to the log of the Mars— after the signal was made to 
form the order of sailing in two columns, Nelson 
made another signal, which has been more hotly 


debated than any other point in this long and tangled 
history. According to the log of the Mars, this signal 
was " 76, with compass signal E.N.E. (bear up and 
steer E.N.E.)." By the log of the Victory the wind, 
which was N.W. by W. at 6 a.m., had become N.W. 
at 7, and so remained until it became W.N.W. at 
1 p.m. Moorsom records that " the wind all the 
morning was light from the N.W.," thus confirming 
the log of the Victory ; but Collingwood in his despatch 
speaks of the wind as " about west." The log of the 
Victory is attested by the master of the ship, and I 
think we may regard this testimony as being of the 
first order and weight. The master of a man-of-war 
was not responsible for fighting the ship, but he was 
responsible for navigating her. If there was one 
thing that he was less likely to be mistaken about 
than any other, it was the direction of the wind and 
the corresponding course of the ship. Thomas 
Atkinson, the master of the Victory, was working 
under Nelson's own eye, and, as the tactical situation 
was governed entirely by these two factors, any mis- 
conception in this regard on his part would seem to 
be extremely improbable. He may have been in- 
accurate in his record, but he can hardly have been 
mistaken in his original observation, and that, at any 
rate, affords some presumption that his record also was 
trustworthy. Hence we may assume, in default of 
evidence of the same order and of equivalent weight 
to the contrary, that the log of the Victory is correct, 
so far as it goes, in giving the direction of the wind 
and the course steered by that ship. The entries 
are only made at intervals of an hour, so that any 
temporary alteration of course made and completed 
between one hour and the next would not be 

Now the question is whether the alteration of 
course prescribed by signal 76 was to be executed 
in succession, or together. If all the ships bore up 
together, the line ahead in which they had previously 



been sailing would be converted into a line of bearing, 
in which all the ships would be pointing to the E.N.E., 
whereas, if they bore up in succession, the line ahead 
would still be preserved, though its direction would 
be altered to E.N.E. as soon as the evolution was 
completed. I shall not attempt to decide this point, 
nor is it, in my judgment, worth while even to discuss 
it at any length. The evolution, whatever it was, was 
an evolution of advance, not an evolution of attack ; 
that is, it was prescribed for the purpose of getting 
down to the enemy's line as quickly as possible, not 
for the purpose of putting the fleet into the prescribed 
position of attack when it got down. If it served both 
purposes, so much the better ; but Nelson could not 
possibly have known that it would when he made the 
signal, because it was certainly made before the 
enemy's fleet began to wear. In the Memorandum he 
made no specific provision for the advance. He could 
not do so. He could not possibly tell in what position 
the enemy would be found, nor what his intentions 
and dispositions might be after his position had been 
discovered. Therefore he only said "the divisions of 
the British Fleet will be brought nearly within gun- 
shot of the Enemy's Centre." He would do that as 
best he might, when he saw what the situation was in 
which it had to be done. It was only when it had 
been done that the signal was to be made " for the 
Lee Line to bear up together." It is to my mind 
merely an accident of the situation, and scarcely so 
much as a coincidence, that nearly six hours before 
the action began, and when the enemy was still some 
ten or twelve miles off, a signal to bear up was made 
to both lines — though whether to bear up in suc- 
cession or to bear up together I am content to leave 
in doubt. Personally I think it was to bear up to- 
gether; but there are so many high authorities on the 
other side, and to my mind it matters so little, that I 
am not concerned to press my opinion. Whatever 
the signal may have meant, I feel quite sure that the 


evolution prescribed by it was the one best adapted 
in Nelson's judgment to bring the British fleet into 
contact and conflict with the enemy at the earliest 
possible moment, and that it had no other purpose. 
To identify a signal proposed to be made to one line 
at the moment of action with a signal made five or 
six hours earlier to both lines at the very outset of 
the advance, and to found upon that identification a 
vindication of Nelson's consistency, appears to me to 
be rather a superfluous piece of special pleading — 
more especially as I hope to show in the sequel that 
no such vindication is required. 

The course E.N.E. was not long maintained. By 
8 o'clock, according to the log of the Victory \ it had 
been altered to E. by N., and this is confirmed by 
Collingwood's Journal, which records that at 7.40 the 
signal was made to bear up E. If the log of the 
Victory is to be trusted, this course remained unchanged 
during the remainder of the advance. Thus, neglecting 
the formation of the two divisions, whether in line 
ahead or line of bearing, we find that from 8 o'clock 
onwards the two leading ships, the Victory and the 
Royal Sovereign, were steering on parallel courses to 
each other, and each heading E. by N. The upper 
diagram of the two which face page 53 illustrates this 
position, and shows the angular relation to the enemy's 
line of what I may call the mean line of advance of 
the leading ships of both divisions. The enemy, who 
had been heading in a southerly direction, began to 
wear at a time very variously stated in the records. 
Nelson, in his private diary, says, " at 7 the enemy 
wearing in succession." Collingwood, irr-his Journal, 
says, " at 10 their fleet wore, formed their line, and 
laid their heads to the northward, the British fleet in 
two columns bearing down on them." 1 Now, if the 

1 Nelson's phrase, " wearing in succession," cannot be taken in a 
strict technical sense. Colonel Desbriere says that Villeneuve's 
signal, made between 8 and 8.30 a.m., was " de virer lof pour lof 
tous a la fois et de prendre l'ordre renverse babord amures " ; that 


wind was N.W., the leading ship of the enemy's line 
after wearing could not lie higher than 6 points from 
the wind — that is, at N.N.E., and probably would 
not lie higher than 7 points, that is at N.E. by N. 
The succeeding ships, after wearing, would have to 
go free until they reached the point at which, by 
hauling their wind, they could form a close-hauled 
line astern of the leading ship. With the light wind 
prevailing, much time would be required to complete 
this evolution, more especially as there is some reason 
for thinking that Gravina's division had, up to this 
point, formed a detached " escadre d'observation," and 
did not take its station in the mainline until the latter 
had begun to wear. Mr. Newbolt reproduces a plan 
of the battle which is known to have been attested 
by Magendie, Villeneuve's chief of the staff. In this 
plan Gravina's division is shown to leeward of the 
rear of the main line. On such a point as this 
Magendie's attestation is entitled to considerable 
weight, though, for reasons which I shall give here- 
after, I do not think it is equally trustworthy in 
respect of the position and formation of the British 
columns. Be this as it may, the result was that the 
new line was not completely formed when the Royal 
Sovereign came into action about noon. " It formed," 
says Collingwood in his official despatch, " a crescent 
convexing to leeward, so that in leading down to their 
centre, I had both their van and rear abaft the beam." 
There were many other irregularities and some gaps 
in the allied line, but these need not concern us here. 
The French account of the battle quoted by Nicolas 
states that, when Villeneuve first sighted the British 

is, for the fleet to wear together and invert the line on the port 
tack ; and this is exactly what Collingwood says it did. Neverthe- 
less, though the act of wearing was simultaneous (" tous a la fois") for 
all the ships, each successive ship would have to sail large, and 
could only haul her wind when she had reached the point at which 
the rear ship, now become the leading ship, had hauled her wind 
after wearing ; and this is, no doubt, what Nelson meant by " wearing 
in succession." 




■ i i — » 

i I =L 

O I 2 3 A 5 6 7 8 9 10 Miles 

{To face p. 53. 


fleet at daybreak, he made the signal " de former l'ordre 
de bataille naturel," and afterwards speaks of this as a 
" ligne de bataille bien serree." Thus the direction of 
the line before wearing would make to its direction 
after wearing an angle of 12 or 14 points, that 
is of 135 or 157J degrees, according as the ships could 
lie within 6 or 7 points of the wind. If, on the 
basis of these data, we construct a diagram showing 
the mean lines of advance of the Victory and the 
Royal Sovereign and their angular relation to the 
two directions of the enemy's line, we shall find, as 
is shown in the diagram above referred to, that the 
line of advance of the Royal Sovereign was approxi- 
mately parallel to the rear of the enemy's line, and 
that the line of advance of the Victory was not per- 
pendicular, but appreciably oblique, to the van of the 
enemy's line. In the upper diagram given on the op- 
posite page, CD represents the enemy's van, supposed 
to be sailing within six points of the wind, assumed 
to be N.W. The dotted line to the right of CD 
shows what was the course of the van if it could only 
lie as high as 7 points from the wind. CG represents 
the course of the rear ships up to the point C, at 
which they hauled their wind for the purpose of form- 
ing a close-hauled line astern of the van. V and RS 
represent the Victory and the Royal Sovereign, and the 
lines drawn astern of them represent the parallel 
courses on which they steered, heading E. by N., 
during the advance. The dotted and curved lines 
ahead of them represent the attack, and not the ad- 
vance, and will be considered in my next chapter, 
dealing with the attack. The only purpose of the 
diagram is to show the angular relation of the British 
lines of advance to the van and the rear of the enemy's 
line respectively. It is not drawn to scale, and it is 
essentially a diagram and not a plan. If, as a diagram, 
it is even approximately correct, and if the data on 
which it rests are well founded, it shows conclusively 
that neither of the two British divisions advanced to 


the attack in directions anything like perpendicular to 
that portion of the enemy's line which was im- 
mediately opposed to each. The advance of the lee 
line was very nearly parallel to the enemy's rear ; 
the advance of the weather line was as nearly parallel 
to the enemy's van as its parallelism to the lee line 
and the direction of the enemy's van would permit. 1 

1 On the foregoing analysis of the act of wearing and its conse- 
quences Colonel Desbriere remarks as follows : " Le virage lof 
pour lof de tous les vaisseaux de l'arm^e combinee devait avoir une 
autre consequence, qui parait avoir ete indiqude pour la premiere 
fois dans la remarquable serie d'articles publies dans le Times en 
1905 au sujet de la bataille de Trafalgar." After quoting a portion 
of what has been said above, Colonel Desbriere continues, " Ces 
considerations, bien qu'ayant un fonds de verite, paraissent ex- 
agerees." He considers that the allied formation was really concave 
and not angular, as I have suggested, following Admiral Bridge on 
this point. He then proceeds : " La forme concave parait tenir a 
d'autres causes. Lorsque la conversion fut faite, la ligne etait mal 
formee, mais deja exagerement resserree. Le virage se fit vent 
ARRIERE, et il en resulta que, pour ne pas heurter le vaisseau qui 
allait devenir son matelot d'avant, chaque vaisseau dut 'arriver' un 
peu plus que lui. La disposition totale de la ligne eut done du etre 
de la tete a la queue inclinee vers l'Est et cela d'autant plus que 
l'ordre donne plus tarda l'avant-garde de 'serrer le vent ' en ralen- 
tissant la vitesse des premiers navires, obligea ceux qui les suivaient 
a se laisser encore plus tomber sous le vent. Si l'arriere -garde, au 
contraire, etait sensiblement plus a l'Ouest que le centre, le fait ne 
peut resulter que de la place qu'avait, avant la conversion, l'escadre 
de Gravina. II faut done que celle-ci eut e'te au vent au moment 
ou le combat s'engagea. Or, ce fait est atteste par divers temoig- 
nages." I should perhaps explain that the word "arriver" is the 
French technical term for " to bear up," and that the expression 
" au vent " signifies " to windward," " sous le vent " being the cor- 
responding expression for "to leeward." 

On such high authority as this, fortified as it is by copious citations 
from documents preserved in the French and Spanish archives, I 
am quite ready to accept this explanation of the crescent form of 
the allied line in lieu of my own. The essential point is, that, 
whichever explanation is adopted, it exhibits Collingwood's line of 
advance as approximately parallel to the rear of the allied line. 
The angular relation of Nelson's advance to the van of the allied 
line is comparatively immaterial ; but if " the crescent convexing to 
leeward " of Collingwood be accepted — as it is by Colonel Desbriere 


no less than by myself— this angular relation cannot have been 
widely different from that which is indicated in my diagram. 

It will be noted that Colonel Desbriere holds, on evidence which 
he represents as convincing, that the " escadre d'observation " of 
Gravina was to windward of the allied line, when the latter wore. 
This throws grave doubts on the accuracy of the plan of the battle 
attested by Magendie, which, as I have said in the text, distinctly 
shows Gravina's squadron to leeward of the allied line. But, except 
as bearing on the value of Magendie's attestation, the point is of 
no great importance. Whether to windward or to leeward, Gravina's 
squadron would take a considerable time in getting into line, and 
would, no doubt, materially impede the correct formation of the 



IN my last chapter I attempted to determine the lines 
of advance of the two British divisions and their 
angular relation to the two portions of the enemy's 
line opposed to them. If we look back to the simple 
diagram given by Nelson in the Memorandum, we 
shall see that Nelson hoped to bring his two divisions 
— being parallel to each other — into a position opposite 
to the enemy's centre, nearly within gunshot of it, and 
parallel to the direction of the enemy's line. It is an 
essential feature of Howe's method of breaking the 
enemy's line — which was, as we have seen, adopted 
by Nelson for the attack of the lee division — that the 
attacking force should be disposed parallel to that 
part of the enemy's line to be attacked, in order that 
the impact of all the ships might be simultaneous. It 
is also an essential feature of Nelson's plan, as ex- 
pounded in the Memorandum, that the two divisions 
of the British line should be disposed parallel to 
each other. If the upper diagram facing page 53 is 
approximately correct, it will be seen that both these 
conditions were satisfied by Nelson's method of ad- 
vance. But a third condition of the Memorandum — 
namely, that the weather line should also be parallel 
to the enemy's line — was not satisfied, and could not 
be satisfied, for the simple geometrical reason that 
the enemy's line was not a straight line throughout 
its length, but "a crescent convexing to leeward," 
as Collingwood describes it, or " a very obtuse re- 
entering angle," as Admiral Bridge, having regard to 

1 The Times, September 28, 1905. 


the probable cause of its convexity, defines it with 
greater precision. 

Thus in principle the plan of the Memorandum was 
carried out so far as the tactical and geometrical con- 
ditions permitted. There was no question of sub- 
stituting a perpendicular attack for a parallel attack, 
since the advance of the lee line was approximately 
parallel to the portion of the enemy's line to be 
attacked, and the advance of the weather line was 
only not parallel to that portion of the enemy's line 
with which it was specially concerned, because it was 
geometrically impossible for it to be so. It may be 
urged, perhaps, that this sudden adaptation of his 
dispositions to a situation wholly unforeseen attri- 
butes to Nelson a tactical vigilance which there is no 
evidence in the records to warrant. The evidence is 
in his whole character and career, in his unique 
tactical insight, attested by his acts and by the judg- 
ment of all his contemporaries ; in his sure and instant 
grasp of the tactical situation from moment to moment, 
attested by his action at St. Vincent; in his con- 
summate genius for battle, attested by every battle he 
had fought. It is true that he has been represented 
as talking unconcernedly to Blackwood all through 
the forenoon; but Blackwood's own account is that 
" his mind seemed entirely directed to the strength 
and formation of the enemy's line, as well as to the 
effects which his novel mode of attack was likely to 
produce. He seemed very much to regret, and with 
reason, that the enemy tacked to the northward." 
This latter statement is extremely important. It 
shows that, when Nelson first bore up, he did not 
anticipate the enemy's wearing. The order to bear 
up must therefore have been the first preliminary 
move of a series of operations intended, in the words 
of the Memorandum, to bring " the divisions of the 
British Fleet nearly within gunshot of the Enemy's 
Centre." If the enemy had not reversed his course 
by wearing, it must have been followed by other 


movements successively directed to the same end ; 
and for this reason it seems most probable that the 
divisions did bear up together and not in succession, 
since to bear up in succession would have lost time 
and have rendered the subsequent movements neces- 
sary to bring the fleet into the required position more 
complicated and equally dilatory. As the enemy did 
wear, these subsequent movements were never exe- 
cuted ; but the fact remains that the signal made at 
daybreak to bear up and steer E.N.E. can have had 
no tactical relation whatever to the similar signal pre- 
scribed by the Memorandum for a different situation 
at a much later stage of the advance. 

An hour or more— according to Collingwood, at 
7.40 — after the first signal to bear up was made, it 
was followed by a second, which altered the course 
from E.N.E. to E. by N. This is corroborated by the 
log of the Victory, which records the course as E.N.E. 
at 7 o'clock and E. by N. at 8. After that the course 
was not altered again during the advance, which is 
thus described in the same log: "Still standing for 
the enemy's van. The Royal Sovereign and her line 
steering for the centre of the enemy's line." This 
second alteration of course was probably made as 
soon as the enemy began to wear, and the new course 
was clearly one which, to Nelson's experienced and 
well-nigh infallible eye, was certain to bring his two 
divisions into the position he wanted them to be in 
at the moment of contact. Immediately preceding the 
entry in the Victory's log above quoted we find the 
following: "Body of the enemy's fleet E. by S. 9 
miles. The enemy's line forming N.N.E. to S.S.W." 
No time is given for these observations, but the 
direction given for the enemy's line shows that the 
entry last quoted must refer to a time after the enemy 
had begun to wear. If now we draw a diagram 
to scale from these data — Victory's course E. by N., 
body of the enemy's fleet bearing E. by S. distant 
nine miles, enemy's van steering N.N.E.— and allow 


a distance of a mile and a half between the " body " 
of the enemy's fleet and the leading ship of his 
van, we shall find that the Victory was at the time 
steering for a point some two and a half miles 
ahead of the enemy's leading ship. But the enemy's 
leading ships were not stationary, any more than 
Nelson's ships were stationary. They could not be 
stationary, or the operation of wearing would have 
been impossible. They were moving slowly ahead 
towards the N.N.E., being close-hauled and obliged 
to go slowly in order to give the rear ships time to 
recover their stations after wearing. Nelson's ships 
were moving faster, since they were going free, with 
all sail set, and he was determined not to wait for 
the laggards in either line. Even if they fell astern, 
they would still be able to operate independently, as 
he had designed the advanced squadron to operate, 
and it is important to note that, just before the action 
began, he provided for this very contingency, by 
telling Blackwood to " make any use I pleased of his 
name in ordering any of the sternmost line-of-battle 
ships to do what struck me as best." Hence he had 
no need to wait, and would push on as fast as he 
could, knowing well that the course he was steering, 
though pointing well ahead of the enemy's line at first, 
would bring him just about where he wanted to be at 
the moment of contact. In the lower diagram facing 
page 53, V is the Victory and the dotted line shows her 
course. B is the " body" of the enemy's fleet bearing 
E. by S. from the Victory distant nine miles. E is the 
head of the enemy's line steering N.N.E. It will thus 
be seen that Nelson did by eye and instinct exactly 
what an instrument devised by Prince Louis of Batten- 
berg now enables the modern naval officer to do by 
mechanism. It is the neglect of this dynamical aspect 
of Nelson's dispositions, and the too exclusive study of 
their statical aspect, as exhibited in diagrams scarcely 
ever correctly drawn, that has in my judgment led so 
many commentators astray. Two of such diagrams 


are reproduced from Mr. Newbolt's volume on the op- 
posite page. One is that given by Captain Mahan, the 
other is from Nicolas's Dispatches and Letters of Lord 
Nelson. It will be seen at once that Captain Mahan's 
diagram is, as Mr. Newbolt says, "frankly conven- 
tional," and that it " bears about as much resemblance 
to the actual attack as the letter A does to a bull's 
head." Of Nicolas's diagram it suffices to say that it 
represents the leading ships of the enemy's line as 
steering well to the west of north, the wind being 
N.W. ! 

From this point onwards it is necessary to deal 
separately with the proceedings of the two British 
divisions. We are to imagine them as steering on 
parallel courses, in lines very irregularly formed 
longitudinally, and perhaps also laterally— I waive the 
question whether they were nominally in line ahead 
or in a line of bearing, since it cannot matter much in 
any case— and both heading for points well ahead of 
the enemy's line, as it stood when, and for some time 
after, the advance began. As time passed, however, 
and as the distance between the two fleets lessened, 
the enemy's line began to draw athwart the heads of 
the two British columns. Had it been a regularly 
formed line, bearing uniformly throughout its length 
from N.N.E. to S.S.W., it seems probable that Nelson, 
having stood on at E. by N. as long as he could, so 
as to secure the advantage of speed by going free, 
would then have ordered both his divisions to haul 
their wind, so as to put them in the positions assigned 
to them in the Memorandum. But, observing, as he 
must have done, that, so far from being regularly 
formed, the enemy's line was " a crescent convexing 
to leeward," he must have perceived that the course 
he was steering would bring the lee line approxi- 
mately parallel to the rear of the enemy's line, so that 
no time need be lost in altering course again. He 
never trifled with a fair wind, nor with time. Having 
both now in his favour, he was the last man to throw 

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f To face p. 6o 


either advantage away. Without further manoeuvring, 
without even so much as a fresh alteration of course, 
the lee line could, when the time came, do exactly 
what the Memorandum required it to do ; and the 
weather line, though not so well-disposed as it might 
have been had the enemy's line been regularly formed — 
and would have been if the Memorandum had in that 
case been followed exactly — was, nevertheless, not so 
ill-disposed as to induce Nelson to waste any time 
in disposing it better for the due discharge of the 
function he had assigned to it, of taking care " that 
the movements of the Second in Command are as 
little interrupted as is possible." This, so far as I can 
see, was the sole risk that Nelson ran outside the four 
corners of the Memorandum, the sole change that he 
made in the dispositions foreshadowed in that docu- 
ment. Who shall say that the risk was an un- 
necessary risk, that the change was not a well-advised 
change in the circumstances ? " Something must be 
left to chance," he had said in the Memorandum ; 
"nothing is sure in a Sea Fight beyond all others." 
Though I do not entirely concur — with all respect, 
be it said — in Admiral Bridge's reading of the situation, 
yet I think he touches the matter with a needle when 
he says that "adherence to a plan which presupposes 
the enemy's fleet to be in a particular formation after 
he is found in another is not to be expected in a 
consummate tactician." 

Collingwood, it will be remembered, was given" the 
entire direction of his Line." In the exercise of this 
discretion he made, as he tells us himself, a " signal 
for the lee division to form the larboard line of bearing 
and to make more sail." The purpose of this signal, 
which appears to have been made shortly before 
eleven o'clock, is no doubt justly stated by Admiral 
Sturges Jackson, in Logs of the Great Sea-Fights to 
have been " to enable the faster ships to get more 
quickly into action," and the same authority adds that 
M it is certain that the line of bearing was never 


correctly formed." That, I think, is very probably 
the case. But Admiral Jackson does not seem to have 
seen that Collingwood's signal was strictly congruous 
with the prescriptions of the Memorandum, and was 
probably made for that reason. There is 'some trace 
in the logs of Collingwood's having at a later stage 
made the signal to alter course one point to port, 
but the entry is open to some suspicion, and in any 
case it does not materially affect the situation. It is 
to be noted, however, that this signal, if made, would 
have had the effect of bringing the lee line exactly, 
or almost exactly, parallel to the rear of the enemy's 
line. What is certain is that, though the Royal 
Sovereign, being a fast sailer and newly coppered, 
did get into action somewhat in advance of the rear 
ships of her division, yet the logs of these ships show 
conclusively that many of them got into action much 
earlier than they possibly could have done if they had 
been disposed in a line ahead, astern of the Royal 
Sovereign and perpendicular, or anything like per- 
pendicular, to the enemy's line. Even James, the 
stanchest advocate of the perpendicular attack in line 
ahead, is fain to admit that the British lee column 
was obliged to advance in " a slanting direction " ; but 
he does not on that account abandon a theory which 
has done as much as anything else to befog the mind 
of nearly .every commentator on the whole subject 
of the battle. Anyhow, it can be shown by simple 
and irrefragable arithmetic that Collingwood's attack 
must have been approximately such as Nelson de- 
signed it to be. For this purpose I cannot do better 
than quote Mr. Newbolt, who seems to me to have 
grasped the situation at this point far more clearly 
than any other writer : 

The times at which the several ships claim to have 
commenced action or engaged the enemy show clearly 
that they cannot all have been following one another 
in line ahead. . . . Though we cannot hope to find the 
absolute time at which anything occurred, we can, by 


taking some marked event as a starting point or 
standard, obtain a series of fairly correct relative times 
for the performances of the individual ships. If, for 
example, we select as our starting point the moment 
eagerly awaited and marked by all without any kind 
of interruption, when the Royal Sovereign opened 
fire, we can find the number of minutes which each 
ship estimates to have passed between that moment 
and her own first entry into action. Thus the Belleisle 
claims to have engaged 8 minutes after the Royal 
Sovereign ; the Mars 13 minutes ; the Tonnant 33 ; the 
Bellerophon 15; the Colossus 20; the Achilles 15; the 
Revenge 10; the Polyphemus about 50; the Defiance 
75 ; the Dreadnought 73 ; the Defence 128. The Prince 
was undoubtedly last, nearly three hours behind. 
Swiftsure and Thunderer name no time. Further, 
these entries are often significantly expressed. The 
Colossus, ten minutes after opening fire, " passed our 
opponent in the enemy's line " ; the Defiance began 
by engaging "the third from the enemy's rear"; the 
Revenge . . . " got through between the fifth and sixth 
from the rear " ; the Swiftsure roundly notes " by half- 

East noon the whole fleet in action, and Royal Sovereign 
ad cut through the enemy's line." ... It will be seen 
at once that of the ships in the lee division, no less than 
nine were engaged within thirty-three minutes of the 
first British gun being fired. 

There is much more evidence to the same effect, 
and a very lucid and cogent summary of it will be 
found in Mr. Newbolt's pages. But I need not detail 
it here. My purpose is satisfied by the foregoing 
extract, which shows conclusively that Collingwood's 
attack cannot have been delivered in line ahead, and 
was, as a matter of fact, delivered in substantial 
accordance with the prescriptions of the Memoran- 
dum. It is true that the diagram given with my 
last chapter does not, as drawn, fully represent the 
situation as Collingwood described it in the following 
passage in his despatch : " In leading down to their 
centre I had both their van and rear abaft the 
beam." But as I have before observed, the diagram 
is not a plan; it is rather a rough geometrical out- 


line of the situation as it was determined by wind, 
course, and the tactical dispositions of the moment. 
Collingwood's words must be taken to show that the 
"crescent convexing to leeward" of his description 
was rendered more convex than the mere geometrical 
conditions implied by the lightness of the wind and 
the tactical unhandiness of many of the enemy's ships. 
The dotted line in the diagram annexed to the pre- 
ceding chapter shows his probable course at the 
moment of onslaught. 1 have only to add that Colling- 
wood tells us himself that he broke the line " about 
the twelfth ship from the rear." He certainly broke it 
astern of the Santa Ana,ax\& most of the listsof the allied 
fleet, together with nearly all the diagrams, including 
the Spanish diagram reproduced in this volume, make 
the Santa Ana the sixteenth ship from the rear of 
the enemy's line. If Collingwood, in spite of his own 
words, really did bring the fifteen ships of his own 
column against an equal number of the enemy, he 
certainly violated most flagrantly the plain letter, 
and the still plainer spirit, of Nelson's instructions, 
and for such violation he must be held solely respons- 
ible. 1 But his own words are against this, and it is 
important to note that James declines entirely to 
specify the exact order of the allied fleet. "As the 
ships of the combined fleet," he says, "were constantly 
changing their positions, we shall not attempt to 
point out the stations of any others than the ships of 
the four principal flag-officers." He then goes on to 
say that the Bucentaure was directly in front of the 
Victory, and the Santa Ana in the same direction from 
the Royal Sovereign. How many ships were ahead 
of the one or astern of the other he does not attempt 
to determine. 

1 It may be that owing to the irregular formation of the allied 
line, some three or four of the ships in its rear were well to leeward, 
and that their fire was thereby masked. Collingwood observing 
this might very well be entitled to leave these ships out of his 


I now return to the weather line, having brought 
the whole of the lee line to the point of attack. Nel- 
son's primary purpose was to contain and cut off the 
van. After that had been done he would make the 
action as close and decisive as he could. But if, in 
containing the van, he found it necessary to expose 
the Victory and the ships immediately astern of her 
to a more destructive fire than might have been in- 
curred in other circumstances, we may be quite sure 
that he would not hesitate for a moment. He never 
did hesitate, as he showed at St. Vincent, when a 
distinct and paramount object was to be obtained 
even by apparent recklessness. He might have 
continued on the course he had chosen, and made 
his attack at the point he had chosen, without ex- 
posing the leading ships of his column to any more 
destructive fire than the relative position of the two 
lines involved. Or he might, by altering course to 
the northward, have placed his own line parallel, or 
approximately parallel, to the van of the enemy and 
thereby effectually have contained, by engaging, the 
latter. He did neither of these things. What he 
did was to make a feint at the van by temporarily 
altering course to the northward, and then, as soon 
as he saw that Collingwood was in a fair way to en- 
gage and " complete the business of twelve Sail 
of the Enemy," he turned again to starboard and, 
according to the Victory's log, " opened fire on the 
enemy's van in passing down their line" — that is, 
unless I am mistaken, the Victory first opened fire 
with her port guns on two or three ships ahead of the 
Bucentaure and then turned sharp under the stern of 
the latter, raked her as she passed, and immediately 
fell aboard the Redoutable. This manoeuvre is roughly 
indicated in the dotted line drawn ahead of the 
Victory on the diagram annexed to my last chapter. 
There is no question of a " mad perpendicular attack " 
— the phrase is Mr. Corbett's — nor of a perpendicular 
attack at all. The advance was a slanting one, making 



an angle, according to the Victory's log, of 5 points 
or 56^- degrees with the line of the enemy's van. 
But before coming within gunfire Nelson turned to 
port, on a course nearly parallel with the van, and then 
almost reversed his course, so as to steer, now within 
gunfire, parallel to the enemy's van, but in the opposite 
direction. The log of the Orion says "the Victory, 
after making a feint as of attacking the enemy's van, 
hauled to starboard so as to reach their centre." 
Codrington, the captain of the Orion, corroborates and 
amplifies this contemporary record, in reminiscences 
committed to paper some years afterwards. Dumanoir, 
the French admiral in command of the van, excused 
himself to Decres for his failure to tack sooner to 
Villeneuve's relief by saying, " Au commencement du 
combat la colonne du Nord se dirigea sur l'avant garde, 
qui engagea avec elle pendant quarante minutes." 
The log of the Tdmtraire, which was next astern of the 
Victory, says: "At 25 minutes past noon the Vic- 
tory opened her fire. Immediately put our helm aport 
to steer clear of the Victory and opened our fire on the 
Santisima Trinidad and two ships ahead of her, 
when the action became general." The context 
shows that all this was before the Victory broke 
the line astern of the Bucentaure, so that it seems 
impossible to doubt that both Victory and TJmfraire 
were at this time firing their port broadsides. 1 
If Mr. Corbett, who cites all these passages and 
comments on them, had realised their true bearing 
and formed in his mind a correct picture of the situa- 
tion they represent, he would, I feel sure, have 
thought twice, or even thrice, before inditing his un- 

1 These movements of the leading ships may not have been 
followed, and probably were not followed, by all the ships astern 
of them. There is, as I have indicated, good reason to think that 
the line was never very exactly formed, and this is probably the 
reason why, as Colonel Desbriere puts it, "la ligne de file se trans- 
forma au moment de 1'engagement en un ordre semi-deployee sur 
un front de quatre a cinq vaisseaux." In that reading of the 
situation I concur. 


happy phrase, " a mad perpendicular attack." It is 
true that, as he says, " the risk was, indeed, enormous, 
perhaps the greatest ever taken at sea." But Nelson 
never measured risks when he saw his way straight 
to his object. Could he have attained the object 
without taking the risk ? 

That object was, as Nelson said to Keats, " to sur- 
prise and confound the enemy," to leave him in doubt 
until the last moment as to whether his own intention 
was to attack the centre or the van, because, as Mr. 
Corbett himself acutely observes, until that doubt 
was resolved " it was impossible for the enemy to 
take any step to concentrate with either division, and 
thus Nelson held them both immobile while Colling- 
wood flung himself on his declared objective." If, as 
the same writer adds, " nothing could be finer as a 
piece of subtle tactics, nothing could be more daring 
as a well-judged risk," why should it be called, after 
all, "a mad perpendicular attack"? It was not, as I 
have shown, perpendicular at any period of the advance, 
neither in fact, spirit, nor intention. In spirit and 
intention it was as near a parallel attack as the forma- 
tion of the enemy's line permitted. As a matter of 
fact, Nelson's line of advance made with that of the 
enemy's an angle of 56J degrees at the outside, and 
possibly not more than 45 degrees. As Nelson closed 
and made his feint to the northward this angle 
approached very nearly to zero, while his head pointed 
to the northward, and very nearly to zero again, after 
he had turned sharp to starboard and " opened fire 
on the enemy's van in passing down their line." It 
was probably this turn to starboard — which brought 
the Victory, as we learn from the Te'me'raire's log, under 
the fire successively of three ships ahead of the Bucen- 
taure as well as the Bucentaure herself — that accounts 
for the heavy losses of the Victory. But these losses 
were due not so much to the mode of attack as to 
Nelson's loyal and devoted redemption of his solemn 
pledge to Collingwood, that he would " endeavour to 


take care that the movements of the Second in Com- 
mand are as little interrupted as is possible." There 
was, indeed, a moment when Nelson seemed inclined 
to turn his feint against the van into a real attack, 
since the Euryalus reports that he signalled to Colling- 
wood, at a very late stage of the advance, " I intend 
to go through the end of the enemy's line to prevent 
them from getting into Cadiz." But this inclina- 
tion, if ever seriously entertained, was very promptly 
repressed. It might have vindicated Nelson against 
the charge of making a perpendicular attack, and it 
would, no doubt, have resulted in crushing the van. 
But it would have left the centre untouched and free 
to turn upon Collingwood with much greater expedi- 
tion and effect than the van could ever have done. 
It would, moreover, have thrown to the winds the 
whole plan of the Memorandum, the fundamental 
idea of which was that the van should be contained, 
cut off, and thrown out of action, while the centre 
was first contained and then crushed. All this was 
accomplished to the letter. I can see no madness in 
a mode of attack which produced such stupendous 
results. I can see nothing but as fine a piece of 
subtle tactics as was ever exhibited in a sea-fight, a 
combination of psychological insight with tactical 
dexterity and rapidity such as no man but Nelson 
ever displayed ; and I can see no greater risk incurred 
than Nelson was always ready to take, even at the 
cost of his own life, for the sake of his country's 


Primera Posicion al Empezar el Combate. 

A. 15 Navi'os a el mando del Vice-Almirante Colingut atacan a 
el cuerpo de Reserva y a el S /(l Ana, Fogoro, Monarca y Pluton.— 

B. 12 Navios a el mando del Vice-Almirante Nelson atacan a los 
buques Trinidad, Bucentaure y los que figuran hasta el S ta Ana — 

C. Un navfo enemigo que se incorpora y se canonea con el Neptuno 
espanol.— D. Vanguardia de la escuadra combinada que hace fuego 
a los navios enemigos que se dirigen al Trinidad ' y Bucentaure. 

Navi'os donde estan embarcados los Generales.— a. Trinidad; 
b. Bucentaure ; c. Santa Ana ; d. Algesiras ; e. Principe ; f. For- 


1. San Juan Neponiuccno : Brigadier Churruca ; 2. Berwick'. 
M r Camas ; 3. Achille : M r D'Nieuport ; 4. S. lldefonso : Brigadier ( _ 

Vargas ; 5. Argonaut e : M r Epron ; 6. Argonauta : C. de N. jg 

Pareja ; 7. Montanes : C. de N. Alcedo ; 8. Aigle \ M r Courrege ; 
9. Swift sure : M r Villemadrin ; 10. Bahama: Brigadier Alcala 
Galiano ; 11. Pluton : M r Cosmao ; 12. Monarca: C. de N. Argu- 
mosa; 13. Fougueux : M r Baudouin; 14. Indomptable : M r Hubert; 
15. San Justo : C. de N. Gaston; 16. San Leandro : C. de N. 
Quevedo ; 17. Neptune \ M r Maistral ; 18. Redoutable : M r Lucas ; 
19. Heros : M r Poulain ; 20. SanAgustin: Brig. Yado Cajigal ; 
21. Montblanch : M r Villegris ; 22. S. Francisco de Asis \ C. de N. 
Flores ; 23. Duguay-Trouin : M r Touffet ; 24. Rayo : Brig. Mac- 
donell ; 25. Intrepide : M r Infernet ; 26. Scipion : M r Berenge ; 
27. Neptuno : Brig. Valdes. 

[Las vistas de las matro posiciones del Combate naval de Trafalgar estan sacadas 
de las unicas copias que de las originales traradas por Escano, Mayor de la E?caudra 
de Gravina, posee el Tefe de la Armada Espahola Sr. D. Emilio Croquer bajo aiya 
diieccion han sido reproducidas fielmente en cumplimento al mejor desempino de la 
Comision que le confio S. M. por Real Orden de 3 de Enero de 1906.] 

To face p. 68] 



I HAVE now brought this long inquiry to a point 
at which it seems clear that, if my data are 
correct, the plan of the Memorandum was carried out 
in the battle as closely as was possible in a state of 
things not exactly identical with that which Nelson 
anticipated when he drew the diagram contained in 
the Memorandum. He anticipated that the enemy's 
fleet would consist of forty-six sail of the line and his 
own of forty. When he found that the numbers were 
thirty-three to twenty-seven, he seems to have thought 
that the advance squadron of eight ships would be 
better employed in making the lee line still strong 
enough to cut off twelve ships of the enemy's rear 
than in the prosecution of the somewhat indefinite 
purpose originally assigned to it. He anticipated 
that the enemy's fleet, if found in a line of battle on 
a certain course, would accept action in that formation 
and on that course without further alteration; and 
for this reason his first move was so to dispose the 
course and formation of his own fleet as ultimately 
to bring about the exact situation prescribed in the 
Memorandum. When, however, the enemy began 
to wear, he made no essential alteration in his plan. 
It was an unexpected move and an unwelcome 
one ; but, since it resulted in a dislocation and de- 
rangement of the enemy's line, it was not, perhaps, 
altogether disadvantageous to him in the end. He 
adapted his dispositions to the altered situation with 

x The Times, September 30, 1905. 


as little modification as possible, not, I would suggest, 
in any blind adherence to a preconceived plan, but 
because he saw, with that instant and sure glance 
of his, that the original plan might still be made 
to serve in all its essential features, and that any 
attempt to readjust it must lose precious time on a 
day that was all too short, and in weather which 
was only too likely to play him false, if he once 
let the opportunity slip. Hence, so far as I can 
judge, the original plan was carried out as exactly 
and as completely as the altered situation permitted. 
The rear was attacked and crushed almost exactly 
as Nelson had intended. While this was being 
done, the van and centre were contained, both being 
rendered immobile during the first critical moments 
of the onslaught, not so much by the indecision or 
incapacity of the enemy as by the surprise and 
confusion which Nelson intended to instil, and did 
instil, into his mind. Villeneuve said, as Blackwood 
records, "that he never saw anything like the 
irresistible line of our ships ; but that of the Victory 
supported by the Neptune and Temcraire was what 
he could not have formed any conception of." That 
is the exact note of stupefaction which Nelson de- 
signed to evoke, and from the mention of these 
particular ships I infer that the moment indicated 
is that at which these ships first opened fire from 
their port broadsides, while "passing down the 
enemy's line." Finally, a pell-mell battle was certainly 
brought about, and that, as we know, was precisely 
what Nelson wanted. The result was exactly what 
he had prescribed for himself in the Memorandum. 
He never said how or where he meant to deliver 
his attack, and probably never thought about it before- 
hand at all. His primary and paramount purpose was 
to "manage" the whole of the enemy's centre and 
van until Collingwood was in a fair way to " com- 
plete the business of twelve Sail " of the enemy's 
rear. He did so manage them, paralysing both at the 


critical moment and throwing the van out of action 
before he closed with the centre. He did exactly 
what he said he would do, and Collingwood did 
exactly what he was told to do. That is how Trafalgar 
was fought and why it was so great a victory — 
because it was designed by the greatest master of 
sea tactics the world has ever known, and carried 
out in his own spirit by men who loved and trusted 
their heroic leader and were not unworthy to be 
led by him. In this sense and in this alone was 
the " Nelson touch," as Mr. David Hannay says, 
" the touch of fire with which he lit up the souls 
of other men." In every other sense it was the 
finest and most subtle touch of tactical genius that 
has ever gone to the winning of a great battle on 
the seas. 

I have thus shown how the attack was made. The 
remainder of the story, at once the greatest triumph 
and the greatest tragedy of the seas, is so well known 
that I need hardly go on to describe how the victory 
was won or how Nelson died. The attack was 
Nelson's. The rest is the melee, and this was mainly 
the work of his captains. Neither he nor they ever 
had any doubt that if the attack could be delivered 
as he designed it the result was foreordained. 
" Should the enemy close," he wrote, " I have no fear 
as to the result." He had so ordered matters that 
they could not help closing, or rather being closed 
upon and compelled to fight the battle out. " It must 
succeed," said his captains when first the " Nelson 
touch " was explained to them, " if ever they allow 
us to get at them." They knew, as he did, that ship 
for ship, or even one ship to many ships, they were 
more than a match for the enemy, and their words, 
" if only they allow us to get at them," show very 
significantly how completely they had assimilated 
their chiefs conviction that the traditional line of 
battle never did allow them to get at their adversaries. 
For this phase of the battle, therefore, he gave no 


specific directions. Nelson had done his part in 
enabling his captains to " get at them"; the rest he 
left to them. " Captains are to look to their particular 
Line as their rallying point. But, in case Signals can 
neither be seen or perfectly understood, no Captain 
can do very wrong if he places his Ship alongside that 
of an Enemy." It has indeed been said that the day 
would have been equally well won, perhaps even 
better won, if Nelson had been less eager to "get 
at them." " Had he given Villeneuve time for forming 
his line properly," writes Mr. Corbett, " the enemy's 
battle order would have been only the weaker. Had 
he taken time to form his own order the mass of 
the attack would have been delivered little later 
than it was, its impact would have been intensified, 
and the victory might well have been more decisive 
than it was, while the sacrifice it cost would certainly 
have been less, incalculably less, if we think that 
the sacrifice included Nelson himself." I cannot adopt 
this view. I have shown above that there was not 
a moment to be lost if the business was to be made 
decisive, and I think we owe it to Nelson to believe 
that for this reason alone did he hurry on as he did. 
Nor can we for a moment attribute his own death 
to his haste. He was slain in the melee } not in the 
attack. It was after he had broken the line and when 
several of the ships which followed him were already 
engaged that the fatal bullet from the mizentop of 
the Redoutable laid him low on the quarter-deck 
of the Victory. 

I am well aware that these conclusions are not at all 
likely to be accepted without challenge. I shall have 
to face the broadsides of all those who hold that the 
accepted version of the battle cannot be overthrown 
after the lapse of a hundred years, and apparently that 
the attempt to overthrow it is paradoxical, and even 
presumptuous, especially in a civilian. I shall perhaps 
also draw the fire of those who, like Admiral Bridge 
and other followers of the late Admiral Colomb, or 


like Mr. Corbett and Mr. Newbolt, have presumed, 
like myself, to criticize the accepted version, but 
have reached conclusions more or less different from 
my own on some of the points in dispute. This, 
however, is the inevitable consequence of independent 
critical inquiry, and as such I shall welcome it. I 
do not pretend to have solved the problem finally 
and absolutely. All that I can claim to have done 
is to have advanced certain considerations, founded 
on authentic data, which must be taken into account 
before a final conclusion can be reached. If the 
inferences I have drawn from these data are unsound, 
my professional critics will very soon set me right, 
and no one will be more grateful than I shall for 
their correction. I will only ask them, in applying 
it, to deal with my arguments solely on their merits, 
and not to disparage or dismiss them merely because 
I have not enjoyed their advantages in the study 
of signals and the handling of fleets. A very 
high tactical authority once told me that, when 
officially engaged in the study of tactical problems, 
he systematically declined to consider any plans or 
diagrams submitted to him for the solution of this 
or that problem unless they were drawn to scale, 
wherever necessary, and with strict regard to compass 
bearings and other critical conditions of the supposed 
situation. I have not forgotten that admonition in 
the preparation of my own diagrams, and I would 
invite my prospective critics to follow the same 
salutary rule. Only by this method shall we reach 
the truth at last. The only way to find out how the 
battle was fought is to start entirely afresh, to take 
nothing for granted, to eschew all preconceived 
theories and opinions, to examine and weigh all the 
accessible evidence, and then to draw from it only 
such conclusions, whether vague or precise, as it may 
be found legitimately to warrant. Of such a process 
the result must point to one of only three possible 
conclusions. Either the evidence may prove to be 


so conflicting as to warrant no definite conclusion 
at all. In that case we must all acknowledge that 
the problem is insoluble. Or it may prove that the 
plan of the Memorandum was, after all, substantially 
carried out so far as the conditions of the situation 
permitted. In that case we must all rejoice that 
Nelson's fame remained unsullied to the last. Or it 
may prove that, at the last moment, he threw the 
famous plan to the winds, as so many of his critics 
have affirmed, and adopted another, of which no 
inkling whatever was given to the flag-officers and 
captains whom he had taken so generously and so 
fully into his tactical confidence and trusted so 
implicitly to carry out his declared intentions. In 
that case we must acknowledge, with infinite sorrow, 
that in the last hours of his glorious life the balance 
of his mind was overthrown, the moral foundation of 
his incomparable ascendency over men was destroyed, 
and that, in his hurry to attack, in his eagerness to 
"surprise and confound the enemy," he did not 
scruple to surprise and confound far more effectually 
the very men whose loyal and intelligent co-operation 
was taken for granted in every line of the Memorandum. 
If that is, indeed, to be the final conclusion, we 
must, I think, further acknowledge that it destroys, 
once and for all, every notion that the world has 
hitherto formed of Nelson's character and career. I 
do not know how it may strike a seaman ; but it 
certainly seems to me that an admiral who did what, 
if this conclusion were established, Nelson would 
be proved to have done, would deserve something 
very different from the unbounded honour which 
the whole world has accorded him — and this in spite 
of the triumph of the victory and the tragedy of the 
hero's death. If there was one thing that Nelson 
prided himself on more than any other, it was the 
cordiality and confidence that always existed between 
himself and his captains. " I had the happiness to 
command a band of brothers," he said of the captains 


who fought under him at the Nile. A band of 
brothers is not to be commanded by a man who, 
having taken his captains into his confidence as fully 
as any admiral ever did, could not be trusted not 
to make fools of them by changing his mind without 
saying a single word to any one of them. I do not 
say that Nelson was bound not to change his plan. 
On the contrary, I think he was bound to change 
it, if circumstances so required. But then, surely, 
he was equally bound to tell his subordinates that he 
had changed it. A single signal would have sufficed 
— such a signal as I make bold to affirm no admiral 
would in these days omit to make — to the effect 
that the Memorandum of October 9 was to be dis- 
regarded. Yet no scrap of evidence has ever yet 
been adduced to show that any such signal was made, 
or that any information of like purport was conveyed 
to the fleet in any manner whatever. It is this total 
omission to make his change of mind known to his 
followers that, if it could be established, would, in 
my judgment, inflict a lasting stain on Nelson's 
honour and fame. Surely, before we admit even the 
possibility of such dishonour, we must scrutinize the 
evidence that points to it with the utmost jealousy. 

After all, what does this evidence amount to ? 
There are certain entries in the logs, which, if they 
stood alone, might seem to be more or less inconsistent 
with the view of the situation which I have en- 
deavoured to delineate in the preceding chapters ; but, 
when they come to be weighed against other evidence 
derived from the same source, I doubt if any fair- 
minded critic could accept them as either decisive 
or preponderant. Then there is the obiter dictum of 
Moorsom, the captain of the Revenge, who says, in 
a private letter to his father written some weeks after 
the battle, " A regular plan was laid down by Lord 
Nelson some time before the action, but not acted 
upon." Against this may be set in the balance another 
private letter from Eliab Harvey, captain of the 


Temerairc, written two days after the battle, in which 
the man who followed Nelson into the fight, and 
was to have led the weather line if Nelson had 
not led it himself, says, " It was noon before the 
action commenced, which was done according to the 
instructions given to us by Lord Nelson." I dare say 
there was much discussion of the point between the 
captains who survived, and that two schools of opinion 
existed from the very outset. I feel sure that very 
few, if any, of them fully understood the whole 
content of the Memorandum, and I should myself 
measure their tactical insight by their adhesion to 
the school of Harvey rather than to that of Moorsom. 
I am aware that one officer belonging to the latter 
school is the author of a criticism of the battle which 
has been pronounced by Admiral Bridge to be "one 
of the most important contributions to the investiga- 
tion of tactical questions ever published in the English 
tongue." I concur in that judgment so far as regards 
the ability of the critic and the lucidity of his criticism. 
But the anonymous officer of the Conqueror was 
avowedly defending a thesis, and I have shown 
already that, in describing the plan of the Memorandum, 
he attributed to Nelson an intention which Nelson 
nowhere avows, and which is, in fact, directly at 
variance with the text of the Memorandum itself. 
On this criticism, thus shown to be unsound at 
its very foundation, are, as Admiral Bridge says, 
" based nearly or quite all the unfavourable views 
expressed against the British tactics at Trafalgar." 
I do not know whether I need treat as serious, or 
worthy of serious attention, the views of the battle 
propounded by James in his Naval History. As 
James was a civilian, like myself, perhaps I may be 
permitted to say without presumption that his tactical 
insight was, as I have already remarked, beneath 
contempt. Alone, so far as I know, among all com- 
mentators on the battle, he defends the perpendicular 
attack in line ahead as perhaps the best form of attack 


that could be devised, and in support of this amazing 
thesis he advances the still more amazing hypothesis 
that the most important passage in the whole Memo- 
randum contains a clerical error which distorts its 
entire purpose and scope. On such evidence as this 
no one would hang a dog. Of the several plans of 
the battle to which appeal is so often made, it suffices 
to say that their evidence cannot be of the first order, 
in any case, and that, so far as they are inconsistent 
with the evidence supplied by the logs concerning 
wind, course, and formation, they are not evidence 
at all. 

Lastly, there is the evidence of certain French 
witnesses of the battle. Of this I have to say that 
it cannot, in any case, be decisive, and that it is for 
the most part of no very high order and weight. 1 
Magendie, flag-captain of the Bucentaure, is known 
to have certified a plan which was probably the first 
ever drawn ; and a copy of this plan, bearing the 
signature of Magendie, is preserved among the papers 
of Lord Barham, who was First Lord of the Admiralty 
when Trafalgar was fought. This is the plan which 
was pronounced by the late Admiral Colomb — who 
knew that the authority of Villeneuve himself had 
been claimed for it, but did not apparently know that 
Magendie's attestation was in existence — " to have 
been drawn by some one who had no notion of the 
facts, and who could not have used them if he had 
known them." It seems to be thought that the subse- 
quent discovery of Magendie's attestation is peculiarly 
unfortunate for Colomb's reputation as a tactical critic. 
I cannot so regard it. I should accept the plan as good 
prima facie evidence for the formation of the allied 

1 Since the above was originally written a very great deal of fresh 
collateral evidence has been collected from the French and Spanish 
archives and published by Colonel Desbriere. But inasmuch as 
the solution of the problem propounded by that distinguished writer 
is, as I have pointed out in the Preface, substantially identical with 
my own, I am content to leave the passage in the text as it 
originally stood. 


fleet, with which Magendie must of necessity have 
been better acquainted than any observer on the 
British side, but as scarcely any evidence at all for 
the formation of the British fleet — certainly no such 
evidence as could be set in the balance against 
evidence derived either from the narratives, official or 
other, of British eye-witnesses, or from the logs of 
the ships under their command. Nothing is more 
difficult, even to a practised naval eye, than to 
determine the exact formation in which a fleet is 
disposed at a distance oi several miles. It is true 
that this argument cuts both ways, but it has to be 
considered that Nelson's tactical discernment was 
altogether exceptional, and that the allied fleet was 
in a normal formation, while the British fleet was in 
a very unusual one. If, then, I rate the tactical 
discernment of Magendie, and of other French eye- 
witnesses who have been quoted, as much lower than 
that of Nelson, corroborated as he is by a cloud of 
other witnesses, I am only making legitimate allow- 
ance for the difference between the observers and 
between the things observed. " It is not easy," as 
Admiral Bridge has said, " to decide the order or 
formation even of a fleet at anchor without prolonged 
observation or frequent changes of the observer's 
position " ; and, a fortiori ', it must be much more difficult 
to decide the order or formation of a fleet in motion, 
viewed from a great distance and in a changing 
perspective — especially when, as at Trafalgar, the 
formation of the British divisions was, by common 
consent, a very irregular one. I can corroborate this 
proposition from a somewhat exceptional personal 
experience. I do not profess to view things afloat 
with the practised eye of a seaman ; but, as a lands- 
man, I have probably seen more fleets in motion 
and evolution than any other civilian, and certainly 
more fleets in action during manoeuvres than the 
majority of naval officers. If, immediately after the 
event, I had been cross-examined by an expert as 


to the evolutions executed and the formations adopted 
by the opposing fleet on any of these occasions, I 
should certainly have cut a very sorry figure indeed. 
It is well known that, when tactical exercises are 
being practised by modern fleets, no conclusions are 
formulated concerning their character and effects until 
the course and speed of each ship engaged and its 
bearings from at least two other ships, recorded at 
short intervals by trained observers told off for the 
purpose, have been collated with similar observations 
concerning all the other ships, and accurately plotted 
down on a diagram. Admirals themselves have told 
me that, when this has been done, they have often 
found not only that the effect of what they did 
themselves was quite other than what they had 
intended, but that they had attributed movements and 
dispositions to their opponents which the opponents 
themselves were shown never to have executed. In 
the action off the Azores, during the manoeuvres of 
1903, the X Fleet at a certain period of its advance 
seemed to every observer on the deck of the Majestic 
to be disposed in a huddled mass, in which no definite 
formation could be discerned and no determinate 
evolution detected. I am quite sure that no officer 
on board the Majestic could explain or understand 
what the X Fleet was doing at that moment; and 
in the detailed official narrative of the manoeuvres 
there is not a single word to account for the ap- 
pearance it presented. Such an experience, which 
is no isolated one, certainly makes me, at least, 
exceedingly sceptical as to the evidence derived from 
French sources concerning the British dispositions 
at Trafalgar. What they may attest is the dispositions 
of the allied fleet, and in that order of evidence I 
have found nothing to disallow, or even appreciably 
weaken, the conclusions I have reached in the course 
of this inquiry. 

Lastly, I must repeat that almost the only evidence 
that ought to convince any one to whom Nelson's 


reputation and honour arc dear would be the proof 
of a direct avowal on Nelson's part that he had 
changed his plan at the last moment. No such proof 
is forthcoming. The evidence is all the other way. 
It is all very well for Captain Mahan to say, as he 
does, "Thus, as Ivanhoe at the instant of the en- 
counter in the lists shifted his lance from the shield 
to the casque of the Templar, so Nelson, at the 
moment of engaging, changed the details of his plan," 
and then, by diagram and description, to attribute 
dispositions to Nelson which point to no mere modifi- 
cation of detail, but to a fundamental change of 
principle. That is a very pretty gloss to put on a 
very ugly situation. Ivanhoe was fighting in single 
combat. He had no one to consider but himself. 
Nelson had in his keeping the fate of his country, 
the confidence, the loyalty, the devoted affection of 
officers who knew his plans and were ready to die 
in executing them. How could he be said not to 
have betrayed that trust, if he jeopardized his country's 
fate by deceiving those who had so trusted him, 
and impaired even their tried efficiency by expecting 
them, without a word of notice or warning, to execute 
a plan of which they had never even heard ? We 
have no right to judge by results in this case. If this 
is a true account of the battle, it was indeed a pell-mell 
battle with a vengeance — a mere gambler's throw, 
which success might condone but could never justify. 
Few admirals have ever taken their officers so fully into 
their confidence as Nelson did. He gave them what 
he could of his own strength, and in return gathered 
all theirs into himself. Others have kept their own 
counsel and taught their officers, when in action, 
merely to look for their signals and obey them. Each 
method has its merits, but there can be no compromise 
between the two. To abandon a plan of action 
carefully explained beforehand, and well understood 
by every one concerned, and to substitute for it another 
which has never been explained at all, is to combine 


the disadvantages of both methods in the most 
disastrous fashion, and virtually to proclaim that 
tactics are of no account at all, that one way of 
fighting a battle is just as good as another way, 
especially if those who are to fight it do not know 
in the least how it is going to be fought. Surely the 
moral evidence against a Nelson doing this is far more 
overwhelming than the most cogent of circumstantial 
evidence to the contrary ever could be. Those who 
hold this belief must reconcile it, if they can, with his 
last noble signal, " England expects that every man 
will do his duty " — with his last dying words, " Thank 
God, I have done my duty." For myself, I cannot. 


UNIVERSAL acclaim on this side of the Atlantic 
has declared The Life of Nelson to be a 
masterpiece eminently worthy of the author of The 
Influence of Sea Power on History. The task under- 
taken by a modern biographer of Nelson must needs 
be a supremely difficult one. He has to sustain 
comparison with a great writer who was never more 
happily inspired than when he expanded an article 
originally contributed to The Quarterly Review into a 
classic. He has to do what Southey never attempted 
— to justify to a generation which has happily never 
known naval war on a grand scale, the conviction 
of his contemporaries that Nelson was the greatest 
seaman that ever lived. He has to grapple with 
manifold difficulties which are inherent in all forms 
of biography, and never more baffling than when the 
canvas on which he paints presents a great historic 
crisis in the affairs of men largely determined in 
its issues by the character and achievements of his 
subject. Moreover, Captain Mahan in particular is 
confronted with a rivalry which few but himself 
could sustain. In the far more difficult field of 
biography he has to maintain a reputation already 
achieved in another field, in which, by common 
consent, he stands pre-eminent. It is a mere truism 
nowadays to say that Captain Mahan has taught all 
serious students of naval warfare in two worlds how 
to think rightly on the problems it presents. The 
phrase " sea power," as applied, though not invented, 
by him, is one of those happy inspirations of genius 

1 Quarterly Revieiu, January 1898. 


which flash the light of philosophy on a whole 
department of human action. Its analysis in his 
previous works is a contribution to human thought 
of which many of the larger issues and consequences 
are perhaps even yet unexplored. In this direction, 
however, he has already done his work so well that 
he has no new lessons to teach us, though he has 
many old ones to enforce, when he undertakes to 
show us Nelson as " the embodiment of the sea power 
of Great Britain." But he has to justify the title and 
to convince us that it is not unworthily bestowed. 
I need waste no time in proving that in this he 
has triumphantly succeeded. Securus judicat orbis 

Though purely as a piece of literature the new 
Life of Nelson is worthy of high praise, yet Captain 
Mahan has not directly essayed to rival Southey in 
his own field. Of Nelson, the hero and the idol of 
his countrymen, Southey still remains the classical 
biographer. But of Nelson the seaman, "the embodi- 
ment of the sea power " of his country, the man who, 
better than any other that ever lived, understood the 
eternal principles of sea-warfare, and illustrated them 
more splendidly, Captain Mahan stands now and 
henceforth as the one incomparable exponent. It was 
no part of Southey's purpose to make his Life of 
Nelson an analysis of Nelson's strategic genius or 
a commentary on the principles of naval warfare as 
illustrated by his career. " There is but one Nelson," 
said the greatest of Nelson's naval contemporaries, the 
seaman who best understood him. All his country- 
men felt the same, and Southey, who wrote only a 
few years after the hero's death, never attempted to 
expound Nelson's genius, because he never could have 
imagined that it would be disputed. It is true that 
a recent editor of Southey explains the matter quite 
differently. If we do not find intellectual power in 
Nelson, the real reason is, we are asked to believe, 
that intellectual power was by no means one of his 


conspicuous endowments. In his writings there is no 
thought, we are told, or at least none " in any higher 
form than a quite measurable sagacity " ; and even in 
action " it was his misfortune never to have the highest 
to do." Manifestly, unless we accept this view of the 
matter, it was high time for a new Life of Nelson to be 
written — a biography at once critical and sympathetic, 
which, accepting St. Vincent's dictum, " There is but 
one Nelson," might serve to show, as Southey hardly 
needed to show, and was perhaps scarcely qualified to 
show, why Nelson was unique, and in what special 
gifts and aptitudes the unique quality of his genius 

This Captain Mahan has done once for all. It may 
be that in so rare a character and so vivid a personality 
as Nelson's, the moral force which sustained him in all 
emergencies, and communicated itself, by that con- 
tagious inspiration which is the surest sign of genius, 
to all who came in contact with him, was more directly 
conspicuous than the intellectual power which accom- 
panied and sustained it. But it was the complement 
of the latter, not a substitute for it. Intellectual power 
is not displayed merely in the written word or the 
recorded thought. In the man of action it takes the 
form of sure insight and rapid intuition, which seize at 
once on the essential features of a situation and shape 
action accordingly. Intellectual power of this kind, 
implicit rather than explicit, displayed in action rather 
than in the written word, and always associated with 
an unquenchable fervour of moral impulse, was among 
Nelson's pre-eminent gifts. No one has ever shown 
this so well as Captain Mahan, and the following 
passage must surely settle the whole question. It 
refers to the moment when Nelson sailed for the 
Mediterranean in 1798, when he was already an 
admiral, and after the world had learnt at St. Vincent 
what manner of man he was : 

Before him was now about to open a field of pos- 


sibilities hitherto unexampled in naval warfare ; and 
for the appreciation of them was needed just those 
perceptions, intuitive in origin, yet resting firmly on 
well-ordered rational processes, which, on the intel- 
lectual side, distinguished him above all other British 
seamen. He had already, in casual comment upon 
the military conditions surrounding the former 
Mediterranean campaigns, given indications of these 
perceptions, which it has been the aim of previous 
chapters to elicit from his correspondence, and to 
marshal in such order as may illustrate his mental 
characteristics. But, for success in war, the indis- 
pensable complement of intellectual grasp and insight 
is a moral power, which enables a man to trust the 
inner light, — to have faith — a power which dominates 
hesitation, and sustains action, in the most tremendous 
emergencies, and which, from the formidable character 
of the difficulties it is called to confront, is in no men 
so conspicuously prominent as in those who are 
entitled to rank among great captains. The two 
elements — mental and moral power — are often found 
separately, rarely in due combination. In Nelson 
they met, and their coincidence with the exceptional 
opportunities afforded him constituted his good fortune 
and his greatness. 

The intellectual endowment of genius was Nelson's 
from the first ; but from the circumstances of his life 
it was denied the privilege of early manifestation, 
such as was permitted to Napoleon. It is, conse- 
quently, not so much this as the constant exhibition 
of moral power, force of character, which gives 
continuity to his professional career, and brings the 
successive stages of his advance, in achievement and 
reputation, from first to last, into the close relation 
of steady development, subject to no variation save 
that of healthy and vigorous growth, till he stood 
unique — above all competition. This it was — not, 
doubtless, to the exclusion of that reputation for 
having a head, upon which he justly prided himself — 
which had already fixed the eyes of his superiors 
upon him as the one officer, not yet indeed fully 
tested, most likely to cope with the difficulties of 
any emergency. In the display of this, in its many 
self-revelations — in concentration of purpose, un- 


tiring energy, fearlessness of responsibility, judgment 
sound and instant, boundless audacity, promptness, 
intrepidity, and endurance beyond all proof — the 
restricted field of Corsica and the Riviera, the 
subordinate position at Cape St. Vincent, the failure 
of Teneriffe, had in their measure been as fruitful 
as the Nile was soon to be, and fell naught behind 
the bloody harvests of Copenhagen and Trafalgar. 
Men have been disposed, therefore, to reckon this 
moral energy — call it courage, dash, resolution, what 
you will— as Nelson's one and only great quality. 
It was the greatest, as it is in all successful men of 
action ; but to ignore that this mighty motive force 
was guided by singularly clear and accurate per- 
ceptions, upon which also it consciously rested with 
a firmness of faith that constituted much of its 
power, is to rob him of a great part of his due 

It is thus that Captain Mahan conceives of Nelson 
and his work, as the finely tempered instrument 
fashioned by a rare combination of genius with 
opportunity, and destined thereby to beat back the 
Napoleonic spirit of aggression and to save England 
and Europe by the overthrow of the " ablest of 
historic men." It will be seen at once that the 
method appropriate to such an undertaking differs 
largely and fundamentally from that pursued by 
Captain Mahan in his previous works. In his 
historical works the facts are grouped round a 
central idea — that of sea power. In The Life of Nelson 
the same facts, so far as they are relevant, are 
grouped round and dominated by a central personality, 
that of Nelson himself. Nevertheless, the organic 
relation between the two is persistently and most 
instructively kept in view. If The Life of Nelson, 
regarded as a biography, is the best and most 
finished portrait of the hero of Trafalgar ever 
drawn, it is so because Captain Mahan has eclipsed 
all his predecessors in his grasp of that philosophy 
of naval warfare which Nelson was destined so 


superbly to illustrate in practice. Indeed, it may 
be said that no one who has not, like Captain 
Mahan, steadily conceived and profoundly studied 
" the influence of sea power upon history," is qualified 
in these days to write the life of Nelson at all. But 
this qualification, rare as it is, is not sufficient in 
itself. History is abstract, biography is concrete. 
On the historical page the elements of human 
personality, character, motive, passion, and even 
prejudice are, for the most part, subordinate to 
the larger issues of circumstance and event. In 
biography they are factors never to be overlooked. 
The historian studies character from the outside, 
the biographer from the inside. No man will ever be 
a great biographer who does not see the personality 
of his subject as an ordered and coherent whole, 
fashioned to the likeness and consistency of an 
individual man, who is not endowed with sufficient 
imagination to reconstruct the living figure out of 
the scattered and lifeless records of action, thought, 
and speech. 

With this rare gift Captain Mahan shows himself 
to be endowed in no ordinary measure. He has 
saturated his mind with Nelson's despatches and 
correspondence, so that each critical moment of the 
great seaman's career derives appropriate and con- 
vincing illustration, not so much from the biographer's 
independent reflection as from the power he has thus 
acquired of shedding on it the light furnished by 
Nelson's own unconscious revelation of his thought 
and character. But such a method has its snares 
for all but the most fastidious of writers, and Captain 
Mahan has not entirely escaped them. Unless em- 
ployed with vigilant self-restraint, it encourages 
iteration and prolixity. It would be too much to 
say that Captain Mahan repeats himself unduly, but 
a severe critic will, nevertheless, detect certain 
passages in which the same ideas, and more or less 
the same illustrative material, are applied more than 


once to the elucidation of different incidents and 
circumstances. Each of such passages may be, and 
generally is, admirable in itself; but classical severity 
of form would have been more fully attained by the 
excision of some of them and the transposition and 
fusion of others. The strategic exposition is nearly 
always cogent, lucid, and terse. The historical 
analysis displays Captain Mahan at his best. If 
here and there the portrait seems to be a little over- 
laboured, the fault, such as it is, at any rate attests 
the conscientiousness of the artist without seriously 
discrediting his skill. 

The skill of the artist is, in fact, the main difficulty 
of the critic. Mere eulogy is tiresome, and for 
anything but eulogy there is not much occasion in 
dealing with so masterly a production. Nevertheless, 
there are one or two features in the portrait drawn 
by Captain Mahan which seem to me to be somewhat 
less happily touched than the rest, and to these 
attention will in the main be directed. No biographer 
of Nelson can overlook his relations with Lady 
Hamilton or shrink from the task of considering 
how far they affected his character and career. 
Nelson's attitude towards women was that of a man 
little versed in the ways of society, and endowed 
by nature with an eager, inflammable, and even 
volatile temperament. He married in 1787, at the 
age of twenty-eight, but his biographers record at 
least two previous attachments. The first occasion 
was in 1782, when he was on the point of sailing 
from Quebec, and was only prevented by his friend 
Davison from offering his hand to a lady, presumably 
of no very exalted station, for whom he had conceived 
an ardent attachment. Again, in the next year, Nelson, 
while staying in France, fell in love at St. Omer with 
a Miss Andrews, the daughter of an English clergy- 
man and the sister of a naval officer, who afterwards 
served with him, and is frequently mentioned in his 
correspondence. On this occasion he wrote with 


rapture of Miss Andrews' beauty and accomplishments, 
and applied to his uncle William Suckling for an 
allowance of 100/. a year to enable him to marry. 
The request was granted, but immediately afterwards 
Nelson returned hastily and unexpectedly to England, 
and the name of Miss Andrews appears no more in 
his letters. It seems certain, therefore, that he pro- 
posed to her and was refused. Less than two years 
after this disappointment, in November 1785, he be- 
came engaged to Mrs. Nisbet, describing his new 
attachment in a letter to his uncle as already " of 
pretty long standing." But from first to last it lacked 
the ardour of his former loves. It may be that such 
love-making as there was was rather on Mrs. Nisbet's 
side than on Nelson's, for she is described in the 
letter of a friend, who had failed to penetrate Nelson's 
silence and reserve, as being " in the habit of attending 
to these odd sort of people." This was in April or 
May 1785, and at the end of June Nelson writes to 
his brother, " Do not be surprised to hear I am a 
Benedict, for, if at all, it will be within a month." 
But his attachment for Mrs. Nisbet was never a 
passion ; for though he was quick in his affections, 
and told his uncle, in announcing his engagement, 
that he would smile and say, "This Horatio is ever 
in love," he seldom, perhaps never, used the language 
of passion in speaking of her or even in writing to 
her. To his uncle he wrote nine months after he 
became engaged, " My affection for her is fixed upon 
that solid basis of esteem and regard that, I trust, can 
only increase by a longer knowledge of her " ; and to 
herself he wrote some two months before their 
marriage, " My love is founded on esteem, the only 
foundation that can make the passion last." 

This is not the language of a Nelson in love, of the 
man who could write many years afterwards to Lady 
Hamilton, u I am ever, for ever, with all my might, 
with all my strength yours, only yours. My soul is 
God's, let Him dispose of it as it seemeth fit to His 


infinite wisdom ; my body is Emma's." It is rather 
the language of a man who has yielded easily, as was 
his nature, and willingly enough, but certainly not 
passionately, to the innocent artifices of a lady who 
had " the habit of attending to these odd sort of 
people." His wedded life was founded only on esteem, 
and the foundation endured, as it was certain to 
endure in a man of his loyal temper and chivalrous 
honour, until the volcanic depths of his nature were 
stirred by the shock of a mighty passion ; then it 
crumbled into dust, as might also have been antici- 
pated in a man of his titanic impulses. He was, in 
fact, wedded to his profession rather than to his wife, 
who in truth was little fitted to respond to the heroic 
impulses of his soul. At last he met his fate in Lady 
Hamilton, and the quick passions of his youth were 
once more aflame when the most fascinating woman 
in Europe threw herself into the arms of the great 
seaman whose glorious victory of the Nile had filled 
the world with his fame. He idealized her as he 
idealized everything except his relations with his wife, 
as Captain Mahan shrewdly observes. But there was 
that in her which, though only " coarsely akin to much 
that was best in himself," was more akin than any- 
thing that Lady Nelson had to give. Probably such 
affection as she ever felt for him was little more than 
the flattered vanity and reflected sense of importance 
which her unfortunate experience of men had forced 
her to accept in lieu of a genuine and ennobling 
passion. But she was not without impulses re- 
sponsive to phases of his nature which his wife had 
never understood. " It never could have occurred to 
the energetic, courageous, brilliant Lady Hamilton, 
after the lofty deeds and stirring dramatic scenes of 
St. Vincent, to beg him, as Lady Nelson did, ' to leave 
boarding to captains.' Sympathy, not good taste, 
would have withheld her." 

It was in September 1798 that Nelson first fell 
under the spell of Lady Hamilton's enchantments. 


A year later, but more than a year before his final 
rupture with his wife, he wrote thus coldly of the 
latter in his brief fragment of autobiography : " In 
March of this year — 1787 — I married Frances Herbert 
Nisbet, widow of Dr. Nisbet, of the Island of Nevis, 
by whom I have no children." When he wrote these 
words, in 1799, he must have been conscious of 
estrangement, though he had as yet no thought of 
separation. Before he returned to England, rather 
more than a year afterwards, he must have known 
that Lady Hamilton was shortly to become a mother, 
and that, unless he afterwards deceived himself, her 
child would be his. That he could reconcile it with 
his honour still to keep up the appearance of conjugal 
fidelity, and, with his sense of common propriety, to 
expect his wife to associate with his mistress, is a 
paradox much more startling than his subsequent 
relations with Sir William Hamilton himself. Lady 
Nelson was the last woman alive to accept a situation 
such as even Harriet Shelley rejected, although she 
might not know, as we know, that her husband's 
relations with Lady Hamilton were an outrage on her 
wifely dignit}^. But the point to be observed and in- 
sisted on is that the whole of this pitiful tragedy 
belongs only to the last seven years of Nelson's life. 
Captain Mahan allows its shadow to overhang his 
whole career. From first to last throughout his pages 
we are shown the fatal passion for Lady Hamilton 
rising up like an avenging Nemesis to besmirch the 
radiant fame of a man who for nearly forty years of 
a noble life had been chivalrous as a Lancelot and 
loyal as an Arthur. 

I can discern no sufficient reason in morals, and 
therefore none in literary art, for this method of 
treatment. It is often possible, and where possible it 
is always becoming, for a biographer to draw a veil 
over the sexual irregularities of great men. Nelson's 
own conduct disallows such a proceeding in his case. 
But the biographer is not a censor. It is rather his 


business, in such a matter, to record than to judge ; 
and so far as judgment is required of him, he is bound 
to temper it with that charity which " hopeth all 
things " and " thinketh no evil." There are some men 
whose riotous and unbridled passions infect and de- 
file the whole tenor of their lives. Nelson was not 
one of these men. " Doctor, I have not been a great 
sinner." " Thank God, I have done my duty." " God 
and my country." These were his last words— the 
passionate but surely irresistible pleading of a dying 
man at the bar of posterity and eternity. For forty 
years Nelson had done his duty to all men. To his 
dying day he did his duty to his country. For less 
than seven years he failed to do his duty to his wife 
and to himself. Why should the seven years of 
private lapse be allowed to overshadow the splendid 
devotion of a lifetime to public duty? I can only 
suppose that by way of protest against the ill-judged 
efforts of some writers, not of the first rank, to throw 
a halo of false romance over what was really a very 
commonplace, and, in some of its aspects, a very 
ignoble story, Captain Mahan has rightly resolved to 
tell it in all its nakedness as it appears in those 
amazing letters preserved in the Morrison Collection, 
but has wrongly allowed the natural repulsion so en- 
gendered unduly to enlarge the scope of his moral 
judgment, and to project its condemnation retro- 
spectively over the long period of Nelson's life which 
really was nobly free from the taint of illicit passion. 1 

1 In a later essay on " Subordination in Historical Treatment/' 
republished in his work on Naval Administration and Warfare, 
Captain Mahan refers, very good-humouredly, to this or to some 
similar criticism, and avows that he regards it as a compliment 
paid to the artistic success he has unwittingly achieved. Neverthe- 
less his apologia seems to me to imply a theory of biographical 
method which belongs rather to the domain of art than to that of 
history proper. It is the method of the Greek tragedians and of 
the painter who gave us " The Shadow of the Cross " ; but it does 
not seem to me to be the function of biography to let coming events 
cast their shadows before in this way. 


Of course, if it could be shown that Nelson's pro- 
fessional judgment was warped, and his sense of 
public duty distorted, by his passion for Lady 
Hamilton, the attitude assumed by Captain Mahan 
would be to some extent justified. But on this point 
I shall endeavour to show that judgment must, on the 
whole, be given in Nelson's favour. The battle of 
Copenhagen is represented by Captain Mahan as 
Nelson's most arduous achievement, and in the 
Trafalgar campaign the whole world has recognized 
the sign and seal of his genius. On the other hand, 
no one would deny that during the two years after 
the battle of the Nile that genius suffered some 
eclipse. These, of course, were the two years when 
his passion for Lady Hamilton was in its first trans- 
ports, when he seemed tied to i the Court of the 
Two Sicilies by other bonds than those of duty, when 
he annulled the capitulation at Naples and insisted on 
the trial and execution of Caracciolo, and when he 
repeatedly disobeyed the orders of Lord Keith. But 
they were also the years during which his mental 
balance was more or less disturbed by the wound he 
had received at the Nile, and his amour-propre was 
deeply and justly mortified by the deplorable blunder 
of the Admiralty in appointing Lord Keith to the chief 
command in succession to Lord St. Vincent. " Cessante 
causa cessat et effectus " is not a maxim of universal 
application; but combined with what logicians call 
14 the method of difference," it may reasonably be held 
to sustain the contention that the influence of Lady 
Hamilton, which ceased only with Nelson's life, can- 
not have been the sole cause, even if it was a 
contributory cause, of an attitude and temper of mind 
which lasted only while other causes were in opera- 
tion and disappeared with their cessation. The evil 
spirit which beset him, whatever it may have been, 
had been exorcised for ever by the time that he 
entered the Sound. Never in his whole career did 
his rare combination of gifts, professional and personal 


— " concentration of purpose, untiring energy, fear- 
lessness of responsibility, judgment sound and 
instant, boundless audacity, promptness, intrepidity, 
and endurance beyond all proof" — shine forth more 
brilliantly than it did at Copenhagen. Yet the in- 
fluence of Lady Hamilton was not less potent then 
and afterwards than it was during the period of 
eclipse. There are no letters in the Morrison Collec- 
tion more passionate than those which Nelson wrote 
to Lady Hamilton at this time, none which show 
more clearly that, as regards Lady Hamilton, and yet 
only in that relation, his mental balance was still 
more than infirm, his moral fibre utterly disorganized. 
It was during this period of moral hallucination 
that Nelson wrote his last heartless letter to his wife, 
in which he says of her son, that " he may again, as 
he has often done before, wish me to break my neck, 
and be abetted in it by his friends, who are likewise 
my enemies " ; and concludes, with amazing self-de- 
ception and a brutality utterly foreign to his real 
nature, " I have done my duty as an honest, generous 
man, and I neither want nor wish for anybody to care 
what becomes of me, whether I return, or am left in 
the Baltic. Living, I have done all in my power for 
you, and if dead, you will find I have done the same ; 
therefore, my only wish is, to be left to myself; and 
wishing you every happiness, believe that I am your 
affectionate Nelson and Bronte." Two days later he 
was writing to Lady Hamilton : " I worship — nay, 
adore you, and if you was single and I found you 
under a hedge, I would instantly marry you " ; and over 
and over again he assures her that he has never loved 
any other woman. But he wilfully deceived himself 
when he wrote of his wife to Lady Hamilton, a few 
days after the battle of Copenhagen : " He does not, 
nor cannot, care about her; he believes she has a 
most unfeeling heart." For conduct and language 
such as this there can be no excuse, unless indeed 
passion and genius are held to be a law to themselves. 


On the other hand, I find it hard to follow Captain 
Mahan in holding his conduct towards Sir William 
Hamilton to be equally inexcusable. It seems to be 
more than probable that Sir William Hamilton never 
deceived himself, and that if Lady Hamilton and 
Nelson ever pretended to deceive him, it was only 
as part of a comedy played by all three of them with 
their eyes open, for the purpose of deceiving others. 
It is certain that, during his absence at sea in the 
early part of 1801, Nelson believed, and was tortured 
by the belief, that Sir William Hamilton was scheming 
to sell his wife to the Prince of Wales, and was only 
waiting for the latter to be proclaimed Prince Regent 
in order to sell her at a higher figure. He could 
hardly be expected to be very careful of the honour of 
a man whom he thought capable of such baseness ; 
and so complete was his moral hallucination that he 
was probably quite capable of thinking that the 
obligation of friendship really rested, not upon him- 
self, but on the complaisant husband and friend, who, 
having assigned his conjugal rights to another, was 
not at liberty to traffic in them further without the 
consent of the assignee. It is true that in his will 
Sir William Hamilton called Nelson his dearest friend, 
and described him as "the most virtuous, loyal, and 
truly brave character I have ever met with." But this 
can only have been the final touch given by a master- 
hand to the comedy he deliberately chose to play when 
he consented to share with his friend the affections of 
the " fine woman," as he called her, who had been his 
mistress before she became his wife. Qui trompe-t-on ici? 

Now all this moral confusion in Nelson's personal 
sentiments and conduct was contemporary with one 
of the most brilliant of his public achievements. 
Nelson was never more himself than during the 
Baltic campaign. He was least like himself during 
the two years which preceded it. The influence of 
Lady Hamilton was common to both periods, and, as 
I have shown, the latter period was marked by cir- 


cumstances peculiarly trying to a man ot Nelson's 
passionate and eager temperament. Yet in this case 
the needle did not swerve by a hair's breadth from the 
pole of duty, endeavour, and achievement. If it 
seemed to swerve for a time in the Mediterranean, 
surely the cause of deflection must be sought else- 
where than in an influence which, though still opera- 
tive with not less intensity at Copenhagen, was there 
powerless to effect the slightest adverse disturbance. 
Now we have seen that there were other disturbing 
elements at work in the Mediterranean. It is true 
that a few days after his arrival at Naples from the 
Nile Nelson wrote to his father, " My head is quite 
healed." But though the acute symptoms which 
troubled him for some weeks had subsided, it seems 
likely enough that some more or less permanent 
effects remained of a wound so severe that at first he 
thought it mortal, and showed themselves at intervals 
for the rest of his life in a peevish, despondent, and 
quasi-hysterical temper. 1 But even this hypothesis is 

1 I would instance, as collateral evidence on this point, the 
portrait of Nelson which appears as a frontispiece to this volume. 
It was painted at Palermo, for Sir William Hamilton, in 1799 by 
Leonardo Guzzardi, a Neapolitan artist who also painted two other 
portraits of Nelson about the same time. One of these was 
presented to the Sultan of Turkey, and the other is, or was, in the 
possession of Mrs. Alfred Morrison. The portrait reproduced in 
this volume now hangs in the Board Room at the Admiralty, and 
a tablet affixed to it states that it was painted just after Nelson's 
recovery from a severe fever. It is very unlike most of the other 
portraits of Nelson known to me, and its expression is that of a 
man who is not at ease with himself. This may be due to Nelson's 
passion for Lady Hamilton, which was at the time in its first 
transports ; but there are at least two other vera causes to be 
taken into account. One is the wound received by Nelson at the 
Nile, the traces of which are very visible in the portrait, and the 
other is the severe fever from which he suffered at Palermo just 
before the portrait was painted. I claim this portrait, therefore, as 
collateral evidence for the view I have advanced in the text, and 
it is for that reason that I have sought and obtained the permission 
of the Board of Admiralty to reproduce it, although it is not in 
itself a very pleasing presentation of the hero of the Nile. 


not necessary to explain Nelson's conduct at this 
period. It is urged that he allowed the influence of 
Lady Hamilton, the blandishments of her friend the 
Queen, and the flatteries of the Court, to imbue him 
with an undue sense of the particular interests of the 
Two Sicilies, and to persuade him that they were 
really the paramount factor in the general trust placed 
in his hands. It is doubtful, however, whether he 
needed any such persuasion. A student of naval 
history, Nelson was not likely to forget the battle of 
Cape Passaro and the instructions issued to Byng. 
Long before the battle of the Nile he had persuaded 
himself of the importance of Naples and its kingdom. 
In the critical letter of October 3, 1798, apparently the 
first he ever wrote to Lady Hamilton, he says: "The 
anxiety which you and Sir William Hamilton have 
always had for the happiness of their Sicilian Majesties 
was also planted in me five years past." When Jervis 
was ordered to withdraw from the Mediterranean in 
1796, it was for the desertion of Naples that Nelson's 
regrets were most poignant; and Captain Mahan 
himself admits that, " in the impression now made 
upon him, may perhaps be seen one cause of Nelson's 
somewhat extravagant affection in after days for the 
royal family of Naples, independent of any influence 
exerted upon him by Lady Hamilton." It is true that 
when he first returned from the Levant he took a 
larger and juster view of the general situation, and 
seemed to recognize that the main object of his efforts 
should be the destruction of the French army in the 
East and the recovery of the Mediterranean positions 
captured by Napoleon. But apart from any influence 
of Lady Hamilton or of the Neapolitan Court, his 
change of view was subsequently justified, as Captain 
Mahan allows, by the instructions sent to St. Vincent 
after the victory of the Nile. Long before he received 
these instructions Nelson had anticipated their pur- 
port, and largely by his influence and advice Naples 
was precipitated into war. As the event showed, it 



was a very ill-judged proceeding ; but it may well 
have commended itself to Nelson for reasons quite 
independent of anything that Lady Hamilton or the 
Queen might say or do. He had rightly, or wrongly, 
come to the conclusion that, as he wrote to St. 
Vincent on October 4, " War at this moment can alone 
save these kingdoms." There is no doubt that Lady 
Hamilton was the medium of communication with the 
Queen and Court, and that Nelson's advice was rather 
forced upon the Neapolitan Ministers than sought for 
by them. But Nelson assures St. Vincent in the 
same letter that he has not " said or done anything 
without the approbation of Sir William Hamilton " ; 
adding, however, " His Excellency is too good to 
them, and the strong language of an English Admiral 
telling them plain truths of their miserable system 
may do good." He had previously said in the same 
letter, " This country by its system of procrastination 
will ruin itself; the Queen sees this, and thinks as we 
do." On this Captain Mahan observes, " That Lady 
Hamilton was one of the 'we' is very plain." It is 
very far from plain from the context of the letter itself. 
Lady Hamilton had only once been mentioned in his 
letters to St. Vincent written after his arrival at 
Naples, and then only in the following terms, on 
September 29: " This being my birthday, Lady 
Hamilton gives a fete." The next day he wrote, 
" I trust my Lord in a week we shall all be at sea. 
I am very unwell, and the miserable conduct of this 
Court is not likely to cool my irritable temper. It 

is a country of fiddlers and poets, wh s and 

scoundrels" — an opinion which it would certainly 
have been well for Nelson's fame and happiness if 
he had continued to entertain. It was five days 
before this, on September 25, that he wrote to his 
father " If it were necessary, I could not at present 
leave Italy," so that this expression cannot be pressed 
as showing that Lady Hamilton had already cast her 
spells around him. In these circumstances it is almost 


incredible that the " we " of the letter of October 4 to 
St. Vincent should have been intended by the writer 
to include Lady Hamilton, and very unlikely that 
St. Vincent should so have understood it. It is far 
more probable that it merely indicates Nelson's con- 
viction that St. Vincent would think as he did — as in 
fact he did, for he wrote to Nelson on October 28, 
apparently in answer to the letter under discussion, 
"You're great in the Cabinet as on the Ocean, and 
your whole conduct fills me with admiration and con- 
fidence " ; nor would his suspicions be aroused any 
more than his confidence was shaken by the conclud- 
ing words of Nelson's letter : " I am writing opposite 
Lady Hamilton, therefore you will not be surprised 
at the glorious jumble of this letter. . . . Naples is 
a dangerous place, and we must keep clear of it." 

Yet it must be acknowledged that Nelson's judgment 
was gravely at fault when he urged the Neapolitan 
Government to make war at once. But even when 
Mack was defeated, and the King's army routed, he 
never seems to have repented of the advice he had 
given — which had, as we have seen, the concurrence 
of St. Vincent — and still held that he had judged the 
situation correctly. His real mistake was that he 
took Mack to be a man like himself, and failed to 
realize, as he should have done, that the Neapolitan 
army was worthless as a fighting force. But he was 
not without grave misgivings when he came to under- 
stand what manner of man Mack was. On October 9 
he wrote to Lord Spencer, " I have formed my opinion ; 
I heartily pray I may be mistaken." All his other 
errors followed almost inevitably from the initial 
mistake of not acting on the opinion here recorded. 
When he left Naples, after refitting his fleet, he wrote 
to Lord Spencer, " Naples sees this squadron no more, 
except the King calls for our help." Far sooner than 
he expected, the King did call for his help. He was 
back at Naples before the end of the year, and with 
the efficient aid of Lady Hamilton — in this crisis 


indispensable, and certainly given with rare address 
and devotion — he succeeded in carrying off the Royal 
Family to Palermo. 

Here for several months his personal conduct was 
deplorably wanting in discretion and dignity, and 
provocative of much open scandal ; but there is little 
or no evidence to show that his growing infatuation 
affected in any material degree his sense of professional 
duty or his discharge of the obligations it imposed on 
him. It is true that Syracuse had originally been 
selected by him as his intended base of operations, 
and that his abandonment of this intention, as Captain 
Mahan remarks, " suggests the idea, which he himself 
avows, that his own presence with the Court was 
political rather than military in its utility." But Cap- 
tain Mahan also points out that the preference for 
Palermo rests upon sound strategic considerations, 
which may very well have been present to Nelson's 
mind, though he does not specifically mention them. 
Again, though he seemed to tarry at Palermo when 
he might have been better employed elsewhere, there 
was for the moment no urgent call to take him else- 
where. When the call came, with the entry of Bruix 
into the Mediterranean, he responded to it with a 
promptitude and decision all his own. " An emergency 
so great and so imminent," writes Captain Mahan, 
11 drew out all his latent strength, acute judgment, 
and promptitude." Measures were instantly taken 
for the concentration of his forces in a position best 
calculated to intercept the enemy and to frustrate 
his designs, and even when Duckworth refused to 
join him he never faltered for a moment : 

" I am under no apprehension for the safety of 
His Majesty's squadron," he said in a circular letter 
to his scattered vessels, designed to heighten their 
ardour. " On the contrary, from the very high state 
of discipline of the ships, I am confident, should the 
enemy force us to battle, that we shall cut a very 
respectable figure; and if Admiral Duckworth joins, 


not one moment shall be lost in my attacking the 
enemy." To St. Vincent he expressed himself with 
the sober, dauntless resolution of a consummate 
warrior, who recognized that opportunities must be 
seized, and detachments, if need be, sacrificed, for the 
furtherance of a great common object. " Your Lordship 
may depend that the squadron under my command 
shall never fall into the hands of the enemy ; and 
before we are destroyed, I have little doubt but the 
enemy will have their wings so completely clipped 
that they may be easily overtaken " — by you. In this 
temper he waited. It is this clear perception of the 
utility of his contemplated grapple with superior 
numbers, and not the headlong valour and instinct 
for fighting that unquestionably distinguished him, 
which constitutes the excellence of Nelson's genius. 

This is not the portrait of a man who has allowed 
the wiles of a woman to lure him from the path of 
duty and to silence the promptings of his own 
matchless genius for war. 

I need not consider in detail the two most con- 
troverted episodes in Nelson's career, the capitulation 
of Naples and the execution of Caracciolo, which 
occurred in immediate sequence to his vigorous but 
fruitless efforts to intercept Bruix. Captain Mahan 
holds that Nelson was within his rights in disallowing 
the capitulation. He does not doubt that " Nelson 
had been given full power by the King of the two 
Sicilies to act as his representative," though there 
exists no documentary evidence of the fact. But 
he comments with some severity on the epithet 
"infamous," applied by Nelson to the instrument he 
set aside in a letter written a fortnight afterwards 
to Lord Spencer. "Such an adjective, deliberately 
applied after the first heat of the moment had passed, 
is, in its injustice, a clear indication of the frame of 
mind under the domination of which he was." The 
domination of this frame of mind must be admitted, 
and need not be defended ; but its seeds were sown 
long before Nelson ever saw Lady Hamilton, and 


there is no direct evidence that its growth was 
unduly fostered by her influence. 

Similar reasoning applies to the execution of 
Caracciolo. This, Captain Mahan regards as, like 
the treatment of the capitulation, technically un- 
impeachable, but morally reprehensible, and here his 
opinion is, in my judgment, not only unassailable in 
substance, but expressed with singular felicity : 

Nelson himself failed to sustain the dispassionate 
and magnanimous attitude that befitted the admiral 
of a great squadron, so placed as to have the happy 
chance to moderate the excesses which commonly 
follow the triumph of parties in intestine strife. But, 
however he then or afterwards may have justified 
his course to his own conscience, his great offence 
was against his own people. To his secondary and 
factitious position of delegate from the King of Naples, 
he virtually sacrificed the consideration due to his 
inalienable character of representative of the King 
and State of Great Britain. He should have re- 
membered that the act would appear to the world, 
not as that of the Neapolitan plenipotentiary, but of 
the British officer; and that his nation, while liable 
like others to bursts of unreasoning savagery, in its 
normal moods delights to see justice clothed in orderly 
forms, unstained by precipitation or suspicion of 
perversion, advancing to its ends with the majesty 
of law, without unseemly haste, providing things 
honest in the sight of all men. That he did not do 
so, when he could have done so, has been intuitively 
felt ; and to the instinctive resentment thus aroused 
among his countrymen has been due the facility with 
which the worst has been too easily believed. 

■ Nevertheless the biographer himself acquits Nelson 
in this case of the suspicion which long rested on 
him of having yielded his better judgment to sinister 
and secret influences. 

There remains the question of Nelson's subsequent 
disobedience of Lord Keith. Now there is no dis- 
guising the fact that Nelson's genius was splendidly 
impatient of mediocrity, and never submitted tamely 


to its authority. He chafed under Hotham as he 
chafed under Hyde Parker, and he disobeyed both. 
In fact his whole career is perhaps more remarkable 
for the light it throws on the conditions and limits 
of military obedience than for any other single 
characteristic. " You did as you pleased in Lord 
Hood's time," said some one to him in 1796, " the 
same in Admiral Hotham's, and now again with Sir 
John Jervis ; it makes no difference to you who is 
commander-in-chief." With men like Lord Hood and 
Sir John Jervis — men whose genius and impulses 
were akin to his own, and from whom he certainly 
derived no small share of inspiration — he could do 
as he liked, without fear of disciplinary collision, 
because between him and them there existed perfect 
confidence and complete understanding. Even Parker, 
for whom Nelson entertained no great respect, had 
the good sense and magnanimity to approve, or at 
any rate not to censure, an act of disobedience more 
direct but not less splendid, which the popular 
imagination has ever since seized upon as one of the 
most glorious episodes in Nelson's career. Hotham, 
too, sanctioned by acquiescence an act of disobedience 
which Nelson acknowledged and defended. "The 
orders I have given," he said, " are strong, and I 
know not how my admiral will approve of them, 
for they are, in a great measure, contrary to those 
he gave me ; but the service requires strong and 
vigorous measures to bring the war to a conclusion." 
Hotham subsequently approved, recognizing no doubt 
that, as Nelson said, " political courage in an officer 
abroad is as highly necessary as military courage " ; 
and in this connection Captain Mahan takes occasion to 
expound what seems to be unimpeachable doctrine : — 

It is possible to recognize the sound policy, the 
moral courage, and the correctness of such a step 
in the particular instance, without at all sanctioning 
the idea that an officer may be justified in violating 
orders, because he thinks it right. The justification 


rests not upon what he thinks, but upon the attendant 
circumstances which prove that he is right ; and, if 
he is mistaken, if the conditions have not warranted 
the infraction of the fundamental principle of military 
efficiency, — obedience, — he must take the full con- 
sequences of his error, however honest he may have 
been. Nor can the justification of disobedience fairly 
rest upon any happy consequences that follow upon 
it, though it is a commonplace to say that the result 
is very apt to determine the question of reward 
or blame. There is a certain confusion of thought 
prevalent on this matter, most holding the rule of 
obedience too absolutely, others tending to the dis- 
organizing view that the integrity of the intention 
is sufficient ; the practical result, and for the average 
man the better result, being to shun the grave 
responsibility of departing from the letter of the 
order. But all this only shows more clearly the great 
professional courage and professional sagacity of 
Nelson, that he so often assumed such a responsibility, 
and so generally — with, perhaps, but a single exception 
— was demonstrably correct in his action. 

Now it may be conceded at once that none of 
the tests here applied to Nelson's previous acts of 
disobedience — acts which were really among the most 
cogent proofs of his transcendent genius for war — 
will apply to the "single exception" indicated by 
Captain Mahan, — the case, namely, of his persistent 
disobedience to the orders of Lord Keith. As before, 
he felt he was right, and never could be brought 
to admit that he was wrong. But as Captain Mahan 
pointedly observes, " no military tribunal can possibly 
accept a man's conscience as the test of obedience." 
On former occasions he had acted contrary to orders, 
it is true, but fairly within the limits of his own 
responsibility and discretion, and in the assured 
confidence, justified by the event, that his superior 
would have acted as he did had he known the 
circumstances — in other words, that his estimate of 
the situation was a sound one, and that his action 
was in accordance with right reason, taking a just 


view of all the conditions of the case. This is not 
to plead the ex post facto justification of success, 
but to insist on the antecedent justification of an 
appeal to right reason sanctioned in the event by 
the concurrent judgment of those authorized by their 
position or entitled by their experience to decide. 
But a far wider issue is raised by his refusal to 
obey Lord Keith ; and though little exception need 
be taken to Captain Mahan's treatment of it, it is 
worth while to point out, first, that Keith manifestly 
rated the strategic value of Minorca far too highly, 
since its security must in all cases have depended 
on the general situation in the Mediterranean and on 
the supremacy of the British flag in that sea; and 
secondly, that only a few months before Keith himself 
had afforded a precedent, technically unimpeach- 
able though strategically quite indefensible, when, 
neglecting St. Vincent's instructions, he finally lost the 
opportunity of intercepting Bruix by going direct 
to Minorca instead of taking a position off the Bay 
of Rosas. " Although a military tribunal may think 
me criminal," said Nelson, " the world will approve 
my conduct." The world has done nothing of the 
kind. It has felt, rightly in the main, that for this 
once Nelson allowed his self-esteem, even if no less 
worthy motive were at work, to get the better of 
his sense of military duty. No great harm came 
of it in the end ; but if we cannot allow mere success 
to justify disobedience as such, still less can we 
allow lack of evil consequences to be pleaded as the 
justification of disobedience not otherwise defensible. 

Nevertheless, extenuating circumstances may, and 
indeed in justice ought to be, pleaded. Such a man 
as Nelson never should have been placed under the 
orders of such a man as Lord Keith. When St. 
Vincent resigned the command-in-chief, none but 
Nelson should have succeeded him. The appointment 
of Lord Keith was little short of grotesque, and 
Nelson was the last man not to feel it bitterly. He 


knew his own value, and perhaps his self-esteem was 
only saved from degenerating into vanity by his 
real greatness of soul. The great-souled man, says 
Aristotle, is one who, being worthy of great things, 
deems himself to be so. The definition applies pre- 
eminently to Nelson. Not to deem himself the fittest 
man to succeed St. Vincent would have been un- 
worthy of the victor of the Nile. Not to resent the 
preference given to Lord Keith would have been 
a submissiveness quite foreign to Nelson's nature 
and altogether incompatible with his genius. " It 
is not every one," says Captain Mahan, " that can 
handle an instrument of such trenchant power, yet 
delicate temper, as Nelson's sensitive genius." St. 
Vincent had done it, because he was himself a man 
of Nelson's mould. Lord Keith, on the other hand, 
11 was an accomplished and gallant officer, methodical, 
attentive, and correct, but otherwise he rose little 
above the commonplace ; and while he could not 
ignore Nelson's great achievements, he does not 
seem to have had the insight which could appreciate 
the rare merit underlying them, nor the sympathetic 
temperament which could allow for his foibles." 
Herein, I am convinced, lies the real and only secret 
of Nelson's disobedience in this case. Nelson was 
not a Samson caught in Delilah's toils, but the piteous 
victim of that bitterest of pangs, the sense of thwarted 
genius, as the father of history calls it in one of the 
saddest sentences ever penned : 'ExOI^tt] 6$vvt) 77-oWa 
(frpoveovrd 7r€p /jL7)8evo<; Kpareecv. His position may 
be illustrated by two well-known anecdotes. " My 
Lord," said the great Lord Chatham to the Duke of 
Devonshire, " I am sure that I can save this country, 
and that no one else can." This was Nelson's feeling ; 
and assuredly, if he could not save his country, it 
was not at all likely that Lord Keith would. Again, 
when the younger Pitt was invited to join Addington's 
ministry, he was informed that his brother, the Earl 
of Chatham, was to be Prime Minister. Here the 


negotiation ended. " Really," said Pitt, " I had not 
the curiosity to ask what I was to be." Nelson, 
who, without being consulted in the matter, had had 
to serve under Keith, would certainly have sympathized 
with his old friend. 

The consideration of Nelson's relations with Lady 
Hamilton and of its influence on his professional 
conduct has carried me far in the analysis of his 
character and the survey of his career. I have dwelt 
on it at length for that reason, and also because it 
is now almost the only question regarding Nelson 
which still remains open to controversy. There are 
three questions which must naturally suggest them- 
selves to the critic of any new biography of Nelson : — 
Does the biographer draw a convincing portrait of 
Nelson as a man ? Does he explain his pre-eminence 
as a seaman in terms of his character and career? 
Does he take a just view of the moral catastrophe of 
his life ? To two of these questions the answer 
must be an affirmative so emphatic as almost to 
supersede detailed criticism. To the third, as we 
have seen, the answer must be more hesitating, 
though even here the faithful biographer may be 
more easily excused for leaning to the side of severity 
than for yielding to the maudlin sentiment which 
allows the glamour of a rather tawdry romance to 
silence the moral judgment altogether, and to obscure 
the pitiful tragedy of a hero dragged by his senses 
into the mire of an unworthy passion. 1 If it be 
further asked whether Captain Mahan is a better 
exponent than his predecessors of Nelson's un- 
paralleled genius for war and of the historic import 
of his campaigns, it suffices to answer once for all 
that he is the author of the Influence of Sea Power 
upon History. In this domain he is without a rival. 

1 There are letters in the Morrison Collection, too coarse to quote, 
which show plainly enough that Nelson's infatuation for Lady 
Hamilton was essentially and passionately physical, and never rose 
to the level of an ennobling and redeeming inspiration. 


There is one other point, however, on which I 
am constrained with no little reluctance, and with 
profound respect for a judgment and authority which 
I cannot pretend to rival, in some measure to join 
issue with Captain Mahan. The doctrine of the 
" fleet in being," as originally formulated by Torrington 
after the battle of Beachy Head, and expounded in 
his comments on that action by Admiral Colomb, 
has more than once been advanced in former writings 
of my own as pregnant with instruction and worthy 
of all acceptance. It is, says Captain Mahan, a 
doctrine or opinion which " has received extreme 
expression . . . and apparently undergone equally 
extreme misconception." To the latter proposition 
I can assent without reserve ; whether the former 
applies to myself I am not greatly concerned to 
inquire. It will suffice to recall my own definition 
of the doctrine, and to show, as I think I can, that 
it is little, if at all, at variance with the opinions 
repeatedly advanced by Captain Mahan and illustrated 
in the most brilliant and convincing fashion by 
Nelson's practice from first to last. Indeed, if I 
were to say that Nelson's strategic practice and 
his biographer's luminous exposition of it are both 
alike saturated with the doctrine of the "fleet in 
being," I should, in my own judgment, only be 
insisting on the characteristic merit of both. 

He who contemplates a military enterprise of any 
moment across the sea, must first secure freedom 
of transit for his troops. To do this he must either 
defeat, mask, or keep at a distance, any hostile force 
which is strong enough, if left to itself, to interfere 
with his movements. In default of one or other of 
these alternatives it is safe to say, either that his 
enterprise will not be undertaken, or that it will fail. 
This is the true doctrine of the fleet in being — which 
is a fleet strategically at large, not itself in assured 
command of the sea, but strong enough to deny that 
command to its adversary by strategic and tactical 
dispositions adapted to the circumstances of the case. 


So I wrote some years ago in discussing " The 
Armada." 1 The fact is that the doctrine of the 
fleet in being is merely a definition of the conditions 
which, so long as they exist, are incompatible with 
an established command of the sea. "I consider," 
said the late Sir Geoffrey Hornby, " that I have 
command of the sea when I am able to tell my 
Government that they can move an expedition to 
any point without fear of interference from an 
enemy's fleet." In other words, a fleet in being, as 
defined above, is, in the judgment of that great 
seaman, incompatible with an established command 
of the sea; and to any one who is prepared to 
maintain that Sir Geoffrey Hornby would ever have 
undertaken to conduct a military enterprise of any 
moment across the sea without having first established 
his command of the sea to be crossed, it must suffice 
to say, Naviget Anticyram. 

Now let us see how far Captain Mahan really 
traverses the propositions advanced above. After 
the siege and reduction of Bastia, the British troops 
in Corsica were placed in transports which assembled 
in the bay of San Fiorenzo, under the convoy of 
Nelson in the Agamemnon, with a view to the im- 
mediate prosecution of the siege of Calvi. Just 
previously a French fleet of seven sail of the line put 
to sea from Toulon unresisted by Hotham, who was 
watching off that port. Hotham, having failed to 
intercept them, fell back upon Calvi, which he 
regarded as their objective, and was there joined by 
Hood with the main body of the British fleet. Having 
obtained information of the enemy's whereabouts, 
Hood at once made sail in pursuit, and, as Captain 
Mahan relates, " in the afternoon of June 10th, 
caught sight of the enemy, but so close in with the 
shore that they succeeded in towing their ships 
under the protection of the batteries in Golfe Jouan " 
— generally called Gourjean by Nelson—'* where for 
1 The Navy and the Nation, p. 158. 


lack of wind, he was unable to follow them for some 
days, during which they had time to strengthen their 
position beyond his powers of offence. Hotham's 
error was irreparable." In other words, the French 
fleet had been allowed by Hotham to escape, and 
therefore still to remain a formidable strategic 
menace. Baffled by an enemy whom he could 
not reach, Hood remained to watch him, and sent 
Nelson back in the Agamemnon, to resume the work 
of embarking the troops from Bastia. In a few days 
the whole force, consisting of the Agamemnon, two 
smaller ships of war, and twenty-two transports, was 
anchored at San Fiorenzo. 

Here he met General Stuart. The latter was 
anxious to proceed at once with the siege of Calvi, 
but asked Nelson whether he thought it proper to 
take the shipping to that exposed position; alluding 
to the French fleet that had left Toulon, and which 
Hood was then seeking. Nelson's reply is interesting, 
as reflecting the judgment of a warrior at once prudent 
and enterprising, concerning the influence of a hostile 
"fleet in being" upon a contemplated detached 
operation. " I certainly thought it right," he said, 
"placing the firmest reliance that we should be 
perfectly safe under Lord Hood's protection, who 
would take care that the French fleet at Gourjean 
should not molest us." To Hood he wrote a week 
later : " I believed ourselves safe under your Lord- 
ship's wing." At this moment he thought the French 
to be nine sail of the line to the British thirteen, — no 
contemptible inferior force. Yet that he recognized 
the possible danger from such a detachment is also 
clear; for, writing two days earlier, under the same 
belief as to the enemy's strength, and speaking of 
the expected approach of an important convoy, he 
says : " I hope they will not venture up till Lord 
Hood can get off Toulon, or wherever the French 
fleet are got to." When a particular opinion has 
received the extreme expression now given to that 
concerning the "fleet in being," and apparently has 
undergone equally extreme misconception, it is in- 
structive to recur to the actual effect of such a force, 


upon the practice of a man with whom moral effect 
was never in excess of the facts of the case, whose 
imagination produced to him no paralysing picture 
of remote contingencies. Is it probable that, with 
the great issues of 1690 at stake, Nelson, had he been 
in Tourville's place, would have deemed the crossing 
of the Channel by French troops impossible, because 
of Torrington's " fleet in being " ? 

Certainly Nelson, had he been in Tourville's place, 
could not have deemed the crossing of the Channel 
by French troops impossible so long as he " could 
place the firmest reliance that he would be perfectly 
safe under some Lord Hood's protection, who would 
take care that Torrington's fleet, whether at the 
Gunfleet or elsewhere, should not molest him." But 
in order to establish anything like a parallel to 
Torrington's case, it would be necessary to suppose 
that Nelson would have sanctioned the descent on 
Calvi and the prosecution of the siege if Lord Hood's 
force had not been in a position to protect him. He 
neglected the menace of the French fleet only 
because he believed that force to be effectually 
masked, and himself to be perfectly safe " under 
Lord Hood's wing." Even the justly high authority 
of Captain Mahan cannot persuade me that this 
incident affords a proof or even a presumption that 
Nelson would have thought it prudent to transport 
the troops from San Fiorenzo to Calvi, and to 
prosecute the siege of the latter, if the French fleet 
had not been, as he believed, masked by Hood. On 
the contrary, the whole subsequent story, so well told 
and so admirably appreciated in all its strategic im- 
plications by Captain Mahan, of the proceedings of 
this fleet, of Hotham's failure to destroy it on two 
occasions, when, in Nelson's judgment at any rate, 
he had the opportunity, of its potent and even its 
disastrous influence on the campaign until it was finally 
destroyed by Nelson himself at the Nile, is to my mind 
a most pregnant and conclusive proof that the doctrine 


of the fleet in being was one which Nelson uniformly 
illustrated in practice, even if he did not always fully 
grasp it in theory. 

That the doctrine has two distinct aspects is a 
proposition so obvious as scarcely to need stating. 
For an admiral who seeks to command the sea it 
means that the only way to secure that end is to 
dispose of, that is, to destroy, mask, or otherwise 
neutralize, any and every organized force capable of 
interfering with his movements. This is what Nelson 
meant when he wrote to Lord St. Vincent, " Not one 
moment shall be lost in bringing the enemy to battle ; 
for I consider the best defence for his Sicilian Majesty's 
dominions is to place myself alongside the French." 
This also is the basis and justification of his criticism 
of Hotham, and of his own dogged pursuit in later 
days of Villeneuve to the West Indies and back again. 
The Toulon fleet was always " my fleet," as he called it, 
the fleet which it was his business, whatever happened, 
to watch, pursue, and destroy. As it was at the Nile 
and at Trafalgar, so it was at Copenhagen. The or- 
ganized naval force of the enemy was the one objective 
which Nelson ever placed before himself. He implored 
Hotham on March 14 to pursue the enemy and 
destroy him there and then. " Sure I am," he said, 
"had I commanded our fleet on the 14th, that either 
the whole French fleet would have graced my triumph, 
or I should have been in a confounded scrape." But 
Hotham, " much cooler than myself, said, ' We must 
be contented, we have done very well.' Now had we 
taken ten sail, and had allowed the eleventh to escape, 
when it had been possible to have got at her, I could 
never have called it well done." And surely the 
doctrine of the fleet in being as it applies to the dis- 
positions of an admiral who seeks to command the 
sea, could not be better stated than it is stated by 
Captain Mahan in his comment on this engagement : 

The fact is, neither Hotham nor his opponent, 
Martin, was willing to hazard a decisive naval action, 


but wished merely to obtain a temporary advantage, — 
the moment's safety, no risks. " I have good reason," 
wrote Hotham in his despatch, " to hope, from the 
enemy's steering to the westward after having passed 
our fleet, that whatever might have been their design, 
their intentions are for the present frustrated^ It is 
scarcely necessary to say that a man who looks no 
further ahead than this, who fails to realize that the 
destruction of the enemy's fleet is the one condition 
of permanent safety to his cause, will not rise to the 
conception presented to him on his quarter-deck by 
Nelson. The latter, whether by the sheer intuition 
of genius, which is most probable, or by the result of 
well-ordered reasoning, which is less likely, realized 
fully that to destroy the French fleet was the one thing 
for which the British fleet was there, and the one thing 
by doing which it could decisively affect the war. 

On the other hand, an admiral who is not for the 
moment strong enough to seize the command of the 
sea, must endeavour so to use his own fleet in being 
as to prevent that command passing to his enemy. 
This was what Torrington did; and this, too, was 
what Nelson, after Hotham had twice failed to destroy 
the French fleet, found himself compelled to do. It is 
not to be supposed that Torrington imagined for a 
moment that the fleet which, in spite of the disastrous 
orders of Mary and Nottingham, he had saved from 
destruction, would by its mere existence prevent a 
French invasion. He had kept it in being in order 
that he might use it offensively whenever the occasion 
should arise. His own words are decisive on this 
point : " Whilst we observe the French, they cannot 
make any attempt on ships or shore, without running 
a great hazard ; and if we are beaten, all is exposed 
to their mercy." These words, it is true, were written 
before the battle of Beachy Head ; but they enunciate 
the principle which governed his conduct in that 
action, and was afterwards to be stated in language 
which, in spite of all that has been said, I, for one, 
must still regard as embodying the quintessence of 



naval strategy, " I always said that whilst we had a 
fleet in being they would not dare to make an attempt." 
It is no doubt quite true, as Mr. David Hannay says 
in his introduction to the Letters of Sir Samuel 
Hood, that " the fleet in being must be strong enough 
for its work, and that the admiral in command of it 
must not merely trust to his presence to deter the 
enemy " ; but when the same writer adds that an ad- 
miral in such a case " must strike at once and hard," 
he seems to me entirely to miss the point. Strike 
hard such an admiral must when he does strike, even 
if his stroke involves the loss of his whole fleet ; but 
the time at which he should strike thus must be de- 
termined by circumstances and opportunity. To sac- 
rifice his whole fleet, as Nottingham and Mary would 
have had Torrington do, without frustrating the 
enemy's purpose may be magnificent, but it is not 
war. Nelson, as Captain Mahan tells us, " expressed 
with the utmost decision his clear appreciation that 
even a lost battle, if delivered at the right point or at the 
right moment, would frustrate the ulterior objects 
of the enemy, by crippling the force on which they 
depended." But though he was thus prepared to 
strike hard when the time came, he was certainly by no 
means eager to strike at once and before the time came. 
On this point, at any rate, there is no room for doubt, 
either as to his own views or as to those of his 
biographer. In his vivid narrative of the final pursuit 
of Villeneuve, Captain Mahan pauses to interpolate 
the following impressive comment : 

It was about this time that Nelson expressed to 
one or more of his captains, his views as to what 
he had so far effected, what he had proposed to do 
if he had met the hostile fleets, and what his future 
course would be if they were yet found. M I am 
thankful that the enemy have been driven from the 
West India Islands with so little loss to our Country. 
I had made up my mind to great sacrifices ; for I 
had determined, notwithstanding his vast superiority, 


to stop his career, and to put it out of his power 
to do any further mischief. Yet do not imagine I 
am one of those hot-brained people, who fight at an 
immense disadvantage, without an adequate object. My 
object is partly gained," that is, the allies had been 
forced out of the West Indies. "If we meet them, 
we shall find them not less than eighteen, I rather 
think twenty sail of the line, and therefore do not be 
surprised if I do not fall on them immediately : we 
wont part without a battle. I think they will be glad 
to leave me alone, if I will let them alone ; which 
I will do, either till we approach the shores of 
Europe, or they give me an advantage too tempting 
to be resisted." 

It is rare to find so much sagacious appreciation 
of conditions, combined with so much exalted resolu- 
tion and sound discretion, as in this compact utterance. 
Among the external interests of Great Britain, the 
West Indies were the greatest. They were critically 
threatened by the force he was pursuing; therefore 
at all costs that force should be so disabled, that it 
could do nothing effective against the defences with 
which the scattered islands were provided. For this 
end he was prepared to risk the destruction of his 
squadron. The West Indies were now delivered ; 
but the enemy's force remained, and other British 
interests. Three months before, he had said, " I had 
rather see half my squadron burnt than risk what 
the French fleet may do in the Mediterranean." In 
the same spirit he now repeats : " Though we are 
but eleven to eighteen or twenty, we won't part 
without a battle." Why fight such odds ? He himself 
has told us a little later. " By the time the enemy 
has beat our fleet soundly, they will do us no harm this 
year." Granting this conclusion, — the reasonableness 
of which was substantiated at Trafalgar, — it cannot 
be denied that the sacrifice would be justified, the 
enemy's combination being disconcerted. Yet there 
shall be no headlong, reckless attack. " I will leave 
them alone till they offer me an opportunity too tempt- 
ing to be resisted," — that speaks for itself, — or, " until 
we approach the shores of Europe," when the matter 
can no longer be deferred, and the twenty ships must 
be taken out of Napoleon's hosts, even though eleven 


be destroyed to effect this. The preparedness of 
mind is to be noted, and yet more the firmness of 
the conviction, in the strength of which alone such 
deeds are done. It is the man of faith who is ever the 
man of works. 

Singularly enough, his plans were quickly to receive 
the best of illustrations by the failure of contrary 
methods. Scarcely a month later fifteen British ships, 
under another admiral, met these twenty, which 
Nelson with eleven now sought in vain. They did 
not part without a battle, but they did part without 
a decisive battle ; they were not kept in sight after- 
wards ; they joined and were incorporated with 
Napoleon's great armada; they had further wide 
opportunities of mischief; and there followed for the 
people of Great Britain a period of bitter suspense 
and wide-spread panic. 

Now it may be that Torrington was rather a Calder 
than a Nelson ; but even if so much be granted, all 
that the admission proves is that Torrington, though 
he enunciated a sound doctrine and gave it expression 
in very memorable words, did not apply it as Nelson 
would have done. That is a matter of opinion about 
which it is not very profitable to dispute. But the 
doctrine itself is a matter of principle about which, 
so far as I can see, Nelson's own practice affords 
no solid ground for dispute. In any case, it is 
important to note that on one occasion, at any rate, 
Nelson acted exactly as Torrington did ; that is, 
he declined to " strike at once and strike hard," at a 
time when he saw clearly that by so doing he would 
play his enemy's game, and not his own. Singularly 
enough Captain Mahan, in his comment on this 
incident, appears to recognize and insist on the doctrine 
of the fleet in being as emphatically as any of its 
supporters could desire : 

With this unsatisfactory affair, Nelson's direct 
connection with the main body of the fleet came to 
an end for the remainder of Hotham's command. It 
is scarcely necessary to add that the prime object 


of the British fleet at all times, and not least in the 
Mediterranean in 1795, — the control of the sea, — 
continued as doubtful as it had been at the be- 
ginning of the year. The dead weight of the 
admiral's having upon his mind the Toulon fleet, 
undiminished in force despite two occasions for 
decisive action, was to be clearly seen in the ensuing 
operations. On this, also, Nelson did much thinking, 
as passing events threw light upon the consequences 
of missing opportunities. " The British fleet," he 
wrote, five years later, and no man better knew the 
facts, " could have prevented the invasion of Italy ; 
and, if our friend Hotham had kept his fleet on that 
coast, I assert, and you will agree with me, no army 
from France could have been furnished with stores 
or provisions ; even men could not have marched." 
But how keep the fleet on the Italian coast, while the 
French fleet in full vigour remained in Toulon ? 
What a curb it was appeared again in the next 
campaign, and even more clearly, because the British 
were then commanded by Sir John Jervis, a man 
not to be checked by ordinary obstacles. From the 
decks of his flagship Nelson, in the following April, 
watched a convoy passing close in shore. " To get 
at them was impossible before they anchored under 
such batteries as would have crippled our fleet ; and, 
had such an event happened, in the present state of the 
enemy's fleet, Tuscany, Naples, Rome, Sicily, &c, would 
have fallen as fast as their ships could have sailed 
along the coast. Our fleet is the only saviour at 
present for those countries." 

Here I must make an end. But I cannot make 
a better end than by insisting that the one broad 
lesson of Nelson's life is his unfailing perception 
and splendid illustration of the doctrine that the 
paramount object of a sea-captain in war must 
always be to destroy, disable, or otherwise neutralize 
the organized naval force of his enemy or such 
portion of it as represents his immediate adversary. 
If exception be taken to calling this doctrine the 
doctrine of the fleet in being, I am not concerned to 
insist on a phrase which has certainly, as Captain 


Mahan says, undergone extreme misconception. But 
on the doctrine itself I still insist as the beginning 
and the end of all sound thinking on naval warfare 
and its principles. It was because Napoleon never 
understood it, and Nelson never lost sight of it, 
that Napoleon's schemes for the invasion of England 
were brought to naught. Napoleon seems to have 
thought that if he could get his fleets into the Channel 
without an action, the invasion could take place. 
Nelson knew better. He knew that whatever com- 
binations Napoleon might make, however successfully 
his Villeneuves, his Ganteaumes, his Missiessys, might 
evade the watch of the British admirals for a time, 
however adroitly they might strive to " decoy " them 
away, they could never attain such a command of the 
Channel as would enable the Army of Boulogne to 
cross until they had fought those same admirals 
on no very unequal terms, and beaten them as 
thoroughly as he himself beat Villeneuve at Trafalgar. 
" They should not have stirred," wrote Howard of the 
Armada, " but we would have been upon their jacks." 
Nelson was ever " upon the jacks " of Villeneuve. 
Cornwallis held Ganteaume in a vice. Calder, if he had 
been a man like Nelson, and not a man like Hotham, 
would have anticipated Trafalgar. Napoleon's whole 
combination was in truth vitiated throughout by the 
colossal blunder of supposing, if he ever did suppose, 
that even if his fleets had succeeded in escaping, 
combining, and reaching the Channel they could have 
availed him anything so long as Nelson, Cornwallis, and 
Calder, to say nothing of ample forces nearer home, 
were behind, before, and around them, resolved, as 
Nelson said, " not to part without a battle " or as 
Drake had said, two hundred years before, " to wrestle 
a pull " with them. But Napoleon never grasped the 
lessons of the Armada. He did not know that evasion 
cannot secure the command of the sea except as a 
preliminary to fighting for it, and that all his com- 
binations were vain unless or until they could enable 


his admirals to sweep the sea of his foes. This is 
the open secret of the sea, which whoso divines is its 
master and whoso ignores is its victim. The Sphinx 
of history has propounded its riddle to nation after 
nation, and each, as it failed to guess it, has paid the 
inexorable penalty. At Gravelines the sceptre of the 
world's sea power passed from Spain to England. 
At Trafalgar " it was not Villeneuve that failed, but 
Napoleon that was vanquished ; not Nelson that won, 
but England that was saved." Yet Napoleon, in 
his defeat, dealt the nation he never could subdue 
an insidious blow which smote her as with the 
blindness of (Edipus. More than a hundred years 
after Trafalgar was fought we are still wrangling 
over those eternal principles of sea-defence which 
Nelson illustrated so splendidly in his life, and con- 
secrated so gloriously in his death. The blunders 
of Napoleon have for long been far more potent 
to guide and inspire our defensive policy than the 
genius and teaching of Nelson; and the conqueror 
of Europe might have found a sinister consolation in 
his final discomfiture could he have foreseen that, for 
more than a century after the campaign which undid 
him, the mistress of the seas, whose supremacy he 
never could shake, would bury the secret of her 
victory fathoms deep in the blue waters of Trafalgar, 
and close her eyes, as they wept for Nelson, to 
the things which belong to her peace. 




HERE is but one Nelson," said Lord St. Vincent. 
All Englishmen know that Nelson is the most 
beloved of national heroes. All the world acknow- 
ledges that, as Lord Rosebery has said, " there is 
no figure like his among those who have ploughed 
the weary seas." To Captain Mahan he is " the em- 
bodiment of the sea power of Great Britain," the 
symbol, the type, the unique and towering incarnation 
of that spirit of the sea which has made of a little 
island a great Empire, which has carried the British 
flag and the British race to the uttermost parts of the 
earth. More than a hundred years after his death 
he still holds a place in the national imagination 
which we give to no other of those whom none of 
us have ever seen. To all of us whose outlook on 
national life and history has any scope at all his 
personality is still almost as vivid and as winning, 
as powerful to inspire all the love and all the pity 
that are due to the poignancy of human things, as it 
was to those who knew him in the flesh, and first 
heard with stricken hearts the tidings of his glorious 
death. There is no other man in our history of whom 
this can be said ; and it is worth while to consider 
why it is that his name and memory thus stand alone 
in our hearts. 

It is not merely that he was, as Sir Cyprian Bridge 
has said, " the only man who has ever lived who by 
universal consent is without a peer." Vixere fortes 

1 The Times, October 21, 1905. 


ante Agamemnona, and the nation which had known 
men like Drake, and Blake, and Hawke, and Rodney, 
and Howe, and St. Vincent, not to mention Hood, 
who was perhaps the peer of all of them except in 
opportunity, would hardly have put Nelson on his 
solitary pinnacle merely because he transcended them 
all. Nor is it merely because he is the last of a great 
line, because the warfare of the sailing-ship period 
culminated and ended with him. Nor, again, is it 
merely because Trafalgar was a great deliverance 
from a great and imminent national peril. Napoleon's 
naval combinations might have been overthrown even 
if Nelson had had no hand in their undoing, though 
the task would have been infinitely harder for any 
other man ; and it would be unjust to the memory of 
men like Cornwallis and Collingwood to say that it 
is impossible to think of a Trafalgar without a Nelson. 
In truth, it was not by Trafalgar alone that Napoleon's 
naval combinations were overthrown, nor even by 
Nelson's own transcendent share in the dispositions 
which overthrew them. Long before Trafalgar was 
fought Napoleon had abandoned all his schemes for 
the invasion of England, had broken up his camps at 
Boulogne, and marched the Grand Army to the over- 
throw of Austria. Ulm had capitulated on the day 
before Nelson died at Trafalgar, and Austerlitz had 
been fought and won more than a month before his 
body was carried to its last resting-place in St. Paul's. 
Napoleon knew nothing of the final destruction of 
his hopes at Trafalgar when he said to the generals 
who capitulated at Ulm, " I want nothing further 
upon the Continent ; I want ships, colonies, and 
commerce." That was what Nelson and his com- 
panions in arms — Cornwallis and Collingwood afloat, 
and Barham at the Admiralty— had denied him, and 
he knew full well that he had lost it when he broke 
up his camps at Boulogne. Trafalgar was thus in 
a sense only the tactical consummation of a strategic 
conflict which had been finally decided against 


Napoleon when Villcneuve, hunted unceasingly from 
east to west and back again from west to east by 
Nelson, foiled even by Calder, and intimidated by 
the matchless tenacity of Cornwallis, had lost heart 
and turned southward to Cadiz, instead of keeping 
the sea and putting his fate to the touch. In that 
tremendous drama, the greatest ever acted on the 
seas, Nelson was assuredly the first and the greatest 
of the actors, but not the only occupant of the stage. 
In truth, his transcendent personality distorts in some 
measure the proper perspective of history, for neither 
was Trafalgar the real crisis of the conflict nor was 
Nelson the sole agent by whom its issue was deter- 
mined. " I had their huzzas before, I have their 
hearts now," he said to Hardy as he quitted the shore 
of England for the last time. It was Nelson, the 
great incomparable warrior, the victor of the Nile 
and Copenhagen, that attracted their huzzas ; it was 
Nelson, the man with that large, loving, eager, wistful, 
and infinitely lovable soul of his, that even before 
Trafalgar had found an abiding-place in his country- 
men's hearts. The fame of the warrior is fleeting ; it 
remains a tradition, it may be, but not an active 
memory. "The tumult and the shouting dies" in 
time. But the love of men is not so fleeting. The 
rare souls that inspire it possess a passport to im- 
mortality far more durable than any that their greatest 
deeds can confer. In the case of Nelson, as in that 
of Wolfe, this love was consecrated and confirmed 
for ever by the death of the hero in the hour of 
victory. No man was ever more blessed in the 
opportunity of his death than Nelson was. There 
were no more battles for him to fight for his country. 
The battle of his own guilty love must have been 
decided in the end against him. If Emma Hamilton 
was not altogether the "vulgar adventuress" that 
Lord Rosebery calls her, she was, at any rate, not 
the woman to share without tarnishing the laurels of 
his unparalleled feats of arms. Nelson's life's work 


was done, he had achieved imperishable renown, and, 
happily for him and for all of us, the rest is silence. 
It must have been some such feeling as this that 
inspired the noble words of Lady Londonderry — 
Camden's daughter, Castlereagh's stepmother, and the 
mother of that other Stewart who was the friend of 
Wellington — in the letter which she wrote on hearing 
of Nelson's death : 

The sentiment of lamenting the individual more 
than rejoicing in the victory, shows the humanity 
and affection of the people of England. . . . He now 
begins his immortal career, having nothing to achieve 
upon earth, and bequeathing to the English Fleet a 
legacy which they alone are able to improve. Had 
I been his wife or his mother, I would rather have 
wept him dead than seen him languish on a less 
splendid day. In such a death there is no sting, in 
such a grave there is everlasting victory. 

We might well take that for his epitaph if Southey 
had not written it in even more memorable words : 

He cannot be said to have fallen prematurely whose 
work was done ; nor ought he to be lamented who 
died so full of honours and at the height of human fame. 
The most triumphant death is that of the martyr ; the 
most awful that of the martyred patriot ; the most 
splendid that of the hero in the hour of victory : 
and if the chariot and horses had been vouchsafed 
for Nelson's translation he could scarcely have 
departed in a brighter blaze of glory. He has left 
us, not indeed his mantle of inspiration, but a name 
and an example which are at this moment inspiring 
hundreds of the youth of England — a name which is 
our pride, and an example which will continue to be 
our shield and our strength. Thus it is that the 
spirits of the great and the wise continue to live and 
to act after them ; verifying in this sense the language 
of the old mythologist : 

Toi fxev BaifJLOvis elat, Aibs fieyaXov Sia /3ov\a$ 
'EadXoi, eiri'xSoviOL, <^yXa/ce? Ovrjrwv avOpcoTrcov." 

Toi fjuev hai^iovh elcnv. It is this daemonic element 


in Nelson's personality that has given him his im- 
perishable hold on the hearts and imaginations of 
his countrymen. Few among us are fully competent 
to understand, and not many of us have ever tried 
to understand, how and why he was the greatest 
seaman the world has ever known. The popular con- 
ception of his qualities as a sea-officer is still largely 
a misconception; it obscures his real merits and 
attributes to him a mere bull-dog impetuosity and 
tenacity which is supposed to embody the national 
ideal and certainly flatters the national prejudice in 
favour of the rule of thumb as superior to the rule 
of thought. -His recent biographers," says Sir 
Cyprian Bridge, "Captain Mahan and Professor 
Laughton, feel constrained to tell us over and over 
again that Nelson's predominant characteristic was 
not 'mere headlong valour and instinct for fighting'; 
that he was not the man ' to run needless and useless 
risks' in battle. 'The breadth and acuteness of 
Nelson's intellect,' says Mahan, « have been too much 
overlooked in the admiration excited by his unusually 
grand moral endowments of resolution, dash, and 
fearlessness of responsibility.' " These latter are, no 
doubt, the qualities which his countrymen saw first 
and admired most in their favourite hero ; but they 
are only half the qualities which gave him his supreme 
position above all the fighting seamen of history. 
There were really two men in Nelson, even in Nelson 
the seaman. In Nelson the man there were many 
more than two. Wellington saw two of them in the 
one brief interview he ever had with him. There 
was the vain, garrulous braggart whose conversation, 
"if it could be called conversation, was almost all on 
his side, and all about himself, and in, really, a style 
so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust 
me." There was also the man who "talked of the 
state of this country and of the aspect and probabilities 
of affairs on the Continent with a good sense, and 
a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad, 


that surprised me equally and more agreeably than 
the first part of our interview had done ; in fact, he 
talked like an officer and a statesman." A third will 
be seen, happily in only a few fleeting and forbidding 
glimpses, in some of the letters to Lady Hamilton, 
contained in the Morrison Collection — letters in which 
it is only charitable to suppose that his mental balance 
was for the moment overthrown, in which the incom- 
parable Nelson of the Victory s quarter-deck and cock- 
pit is as completely degraded into the sensual, erotic, 
and frantically jealous paramour of Lady Hamilton 
as the Dr. Jekyll of Stevenson's story was ever trans- 
formed into Mr. Hyde. But even in Nelson the 
seaman there were at least two men. There was 
the wary, thoughtful, studious tactician full of reflec- 
tion and circumspection, the man whom Hood had 
singled out when he was quite a young captain and 
had never served with a fleet as an officer to be 
consulted on questions of naval tactics, who had 
studied Clerk of Eldin and bettered the instruction 
of the landsman with the insight of a great seaman, 
who had meditated on the tactical methods of Rodney 
and Hood and Howe and many others, and had com- 
bined and improved on them all ; and there was also 
the man who when he came into action never faltered 
for a moment, always saw the right thing to be done, 
and did it, even, as at St. Vincent, without waiting 
for orders, always kept the signal for close action 
flying, trusted absolutely in himself and in his 
comrades because he had inspired them, and never 
thought that all was done that ought to have been 
done unless all that was possible had been accom- 
plished — nil actum reputans dum quid superesset agen- 
dum. It is the rare combination of these two different 
types in one personality that explains and justifies 
Captain Mahan's pregnant remark, " No man was 
ever better served than Nelson by the inspiration of the 
moment ; no man ever counted on it less." He was 
one of those consummate men of action in whom the 


native hue of resolution is never allowed to be sicklied 
o'er with the pale cast of thought. For this reason 
men of a different mould were too prone to believe 
that the thought was not there. In truth, it was ever 
present and all pervading, but it was so completely 
assimilated into a resolution alike unfaltering and 
unerring that it acted with the precision and rapidity 
of an instinct. As the late Admiral Colomb finely 
said in one of the most suggestive and most sym- 
pathetic appreciations of Nelson ever penned, " The 
courage of Nelson, not only the facing of the most 
imminent personal danger, but the acceptance of the 
most tremendous responsibilities, was a combination 
of fire and ice. His excitement never carried him 
away, his judgment let his excitement share alike with 
itself, and the two worked together in producing acts 
which the coolest criticism of after years only succeeds 
in commending as at once the simplest and the wisest. 
Nelson in action with an opposing fleet stands more 
nearly as a specially inspired being than any great 
man of modern times ; and we cannot contrast him 
with any of his contemporary admirals, great souls 
though they bore, without seeing how immeasurably 
above them all he was when drawing in contact with 
the enemy." 

This is the secret of Nelson's incomparable great- 
ness as a seaman. But this secret was not fully 
grasped by his contemporaries, nor is it yet perhaps 
thoroughly understood by the nation which still so 
justly adores him. If it had been we should not have 
had to wait for a hundred years to find out whether 
his last battle was fought as he proposed to fight 
it in a Memorandum which displays his tactical genius 
at its very highest, or whether, on the other hand, it 
was fought on no principle at all and by a method 
which no critic has yet been able to explain, still less 
to defend— for so it must have been if the hitherto 
accepted plans, diagrams, and models are even 
approximately correct. It is not there, then, that we 


must look for the explanation of Nelson's abiding hold 
on the affections of his countrymen. Nor is it in 
his victories alone, many and transcendent as they 
were. Mere victory is no passport to the immortality 
of personal affection. If it were, the names of Marl- 
borough and Wellington should stand side by side 
with that of Nelson, whereas it is idle to pretend that 
they do. Lord Rosebery finds a partial explanation 
in the fact that the sea is the British element, that 
our sailors have generally been more popular than 
our soldiers. That was true, no doubt, in the time 
of the Great War, especially the earlier periods of 
it, when men could not but understand what their navy 
was doing for them and could not but realize how 
ill-fitted the organizers and leaders of Walcheren 
Expeditions and the like were to emulate the great 
deeds of their sailors and naval administrators. But 
it can hardly be true of the greater part of the last 
century when Englishmen well-nigh forgot for a time 
all that the sea had done for them and all that it must 
still do for them. We must look beyond the naval 
genius of Nelson, beyond even the splendid tale of his 
victories, if we would find a complete explanation. 
M There are," as Lord Rosebery has said, " other reasons. 
There was perhaps the fascinating incongruity of 
so great a warrior's soul being encased in so shrivelled 
a shell. Then there was his chivalrous devotion to 
his officers and men. There was the manifest and 
surpassing patriotism. There was the easy confidence 
of victory. In him the pugnacious British instinct 
was incarnate : with Nelson to see the foe was to 
fight him ; he only found himself in the fury of 
battle. . . . His unwearied pertinacity was not less 
remarkable. . . . Again, he was brilliantly single- 
minded, unselfish, and unsordid. . . . All these 
qualities appealed irresistibly to mankind. But the 
main cause of his popularity, splendour of victory 
apart, is broader and simpler. Nelson was eminently 
human." Other reasons might perhaps be assigned, 


but the last includes them all. Not only was Nelson 
eminently human, he was also eminently, even pre- 
eminently lovable. He had no social advantages. 
He was not versed in the ways of society. Even in 
his profession his early experience of the sea was 
obtained in a merchantman, and as a young officer 
he served mostly in small ships and isolated commands. 
11 It is clear," says Colomb, " that neither society nor 
its superiors were ever quite sure of Nelson. He 
was liable to be called 'an odd sort of person.' 
He was not altogether sure of himself." He had, too, 
the restless, yearning, melancholy temperament of 
genius, and, like Wolfe, he had his moments, as we see 
from Wellington's anecdote, of vanity and gasconade. 
Thus neither education, nor society, nor even the 
training and traditions of his profession did much to 
make Nelson what he was. His rare gifts of human 
sympathy and fellowship were born of his personality, 
not of his environment, just as those higher qualities 
of hottest courage mated with coolest judgment, of 
that incomparable instinct for victory which seemed 
only to be quickened by the fury of battle, were his 
nature "and his alone. Anyhow, to all his great 
qualities as a fighter and leader he added that rarest 
and most precious of all, the quality of loving and 
being loved. "The most brilliant leader," to quote 
Colomb again, " that the British Navy ever produced 
veiled his leadership and sank its functions in his 
followers. They were his companions and colleagues 
in all advances to the front, and they scarcely knew 
that it was his spirit that animated them all and made 
them ' a band of brothers,' " as he called those who 
fought under him at the Nile. Yet though they did 
not know all that they owed to him, they must have 
known and felt that they owed to him more than to 
any other man. 

Moreover, it was not merely in the hour of battle 
that his presence and his influence were supreme. 
There w T as never an occasion when generosity, loving- 


kindness, and tender consideration were needed that 
Nelson did not display them to a degree that might 
put all other men to shame. The story is well- 
known how, when he was hastening in the Minerve 
to join Jervis just before the battle of St. Vincent and 
hotly chased in the Straits by several Spanish men-of- 
war, a man fell overboard, and Hardy, then a lieutenant, 
was lowered in a boat to pick him up. The man, 
however, could not be found, nor could the boat be 
recovered unless the way of the frigate was checked. 
The nearest Spaniard was almost within gun-shot, 
and perhaps any other man than Nelson would have 
felt that the boat, even with Hardy in it, must be 
sacrificed to the safety of the frigate and all that it 
meant to Jervis. But Nelson was not made in that 
mould. " By God, I'll not lose Hardy ! " he exclaimed, 
H back the mizen-topsail." The boat was picked up 
and Hardy was saved to give that last kiss to his 
dying chief in one of the great historic moments of 
the world. In the light of this anecdote are not the 
words of the dying hero, " Kiss me, Hardy," invested 
with a sublimer pathos than ever ? Again, when 
returning from the one great failure of his life, at 
Teneriffe, baffled, disheartened, weak from the loss 
of blood, with his shattered arm hanging helpless in 
his sleeve, Nelson refused to be taken on board the 
Seahorse, the nearest ship to the shore, his own ship, 
the Theseus, lying much further out to sea. The 
Seahorse was commanded by Fremantle, who had been 
left on shore, whether dead or a prisoner no one 
knew, and Mrs. Fremantle was on board. Nelson 
was told that it might be death to him to refuse : 
" Then I will die," he exclaimed. " I would rather 
suffer death than alarm Mrs. Fremantle by her seeing 
me in this state and when I can give her no tidings 
whatever of her husband." He was then taken on 
board his own ship and there climbed up the side 
by one man-rope, calling for the surgeon as he reached 
the quarter-deck to come and take his arm off. None 



but a Nelson could have acted thus — so mighty and 
so indomitable and withal so truly gentle was the 
spirit that found its tenement in that puny and 
weakling frame. 

Incidents such as these might be cited largely from 
the story of Nelson's life. But two more must suffice. 
We know how eager he always was in pursuit, how 
covetous he was of victory, and how jealous in 
husbanding the resources needed to secure it. Yet 
on two occasions during his last campaign he restrained 
those noble impulses altogether, out of consideration 
for two men, Keats and Calder, one of whom he 
loved and trusted, while the other he neither liked nor 
even greatly respected. Keats commanded the Superb, 
which was so rotten that, during the blockade of 
Toulon, Nelson declared that no one but Keats could 
have kept her afloat. The Superb, in spite of her 
rotten condition, accompanied Nelson in his pursuit 
of Villeneuve to the West Indies, but she was the 
slowest ship in the squadron, though Keats had 
lashed his studding-sail booms to the masts, and 
obtained permission not to stop when other ships did, 
but always to carry a press of sail. Nelson feared that 
Keats might fret at this, for we may be very sure that 
he fretted at it himself, and it was just this that made 
him so sympathetic and considerate. " My dear 
Keats," he wrote, " I am fearful that you may think 
that the Superb does not go as fast as I could wish. 
However that may be (for if we all went ten knots 
I should not think we went fast enough), yet I would 
have you be assured that I know and feel that the 
Superb does all which is possible for a ship to 
accomplish, and I desire that you will not fret upon 
the occasion." For Calder, whom he disliked, his 
consideration was even more magnanimous. Calder, 
who had failed to bring Villeneuve to a decisive 
action when he had an opportunity which Nelson 
would assuredly have seized and improved, was 
ordered home, and left the fleet about a week before 


Trafalgar was fought. Nelson had been ordered to 
remove him from his own flagship and to send him 
home in another vessel which could better be spared. 
But though he neither liked Calder nor thought him 
a good officer, he was so touched by Calder's humilia- 
tion and distress that in defiance of orders he allowed 
him to take his flagship home. " Sir Robert felt so 
much," he wrote to the First Lord, " even at the idea 
of being removed from his own ship which he 
commanded, in the face of the fleet, that I much fear 
that I shall incur the censure of the Board of 
Admiralty. ... I may be thought wrong, as an officer, 
to disobey the orders of the Admiralty, by not insisting 
on Sir Robert Calder's quitting the Prince of Wales 
for the Dreadnought, and for parting with a 90-gun 
ship before the force arrives which their lordships 
have judged necessary ; but I trust that I shall be 
considered to have done right as a man and to a 
brother officer in affliction. My heart could not stand 
it, and so the thing must rest." Accordingly Calder 
was allowed to take the Prince of Wales home, and 
Nelson, covetous as he was of victory, and convinced as 
he was that " numbers only can annihilate," parted with 
a 90-gun ship when he knew that the enemy's force was 
superior to his own. Such an act of intrepid gener- 
osity, generous even to the verge of quixotism, was 
characteristic of Nelson alone. No other man would 
have dared to do it. No other man would have been 
forgiven for doing it. Nor did it end in spirit even 
there. As the Victory was going into action, Nelson 
still thought kindly of the man whose only function 
in history is to afford a contrast to himself. " Hardy," 
he said, " what would poor Sir Robert Calder give to 
be with us now ! " 

This, his ruling passion of loving-kindness and 
tenderness of heart, was strong even in death. Just 
as he would not go on board the Seahorse at Teneriffe 
lest Mrs. Fremantle should be alarmed, so, as he 
was carried below at Trafalgar after receiving his 


death wound, he covered his face and stars with his 
handkerchief in order that, as Beatty, who tells the 
story, says, " he might be conveyed to the cock-pit 
at this crisis unnoticed by the crew." There at this 
supreme moment, still thinking of others and not of 
himself, and with " Thank God, I have done my 
duty" on his lips, let us leave him in all the majesty 
of a great hero's death. There is but one Nelson. 


Painted by Hoppner in i 
the Karl of Camperdown, 

■88. Reproduced by permission ot 
from the original in his possession. 

[To face p. 133, 


IN the middle of the eighteenth century a Member 
of Parliament became known to his contem- 
poraries as " Single Speech Hamilton." On the 
memorable occasion which gave an opposition to the 
House of Commons, and the seals of a Secretary of 
State to the elder Fox, while it drew from Pitt one 
of the most famous of his speeches and quite the most 
celebrated of his metaphors, William Gerard Hamilton 
delivered his first and only speech. " He spoke for 
the first time," says Horace Walpole, who heard him, 
" and was at once perfection." He never spoke in the 
House of Commons again. " Yet a volume he has 
left of maxims for debating in the House of Commons 
proves," says Lord Stanhope, " how deeply and care- 
fully he had made that subject his study." The unique 
effort of the debate on the Address in 1755 — which 
placed Hamilton for the moment almost on a level 
with Pitt — was at once the fruit and the proof of the 
speaker's mastery of Parliamentary Logic. He spoke 
well because he had studied the whole art of parliamen- 
tary fence and fathomed all its secrets. He seemed to 
flash across the parliamentary sky like a sudden and 
brilliant meteor glowing only for a moment. But the 
Parliamentary Logic reveals the source from which 
the meteor derived its lustre, and proves that its fuel 
was not exhausted, though it never glowed again. 

As Gerard Hamilton was called " Single Speech 
Hamilton," so Admiral Duncan, the victor of Camper- 
down, might well be called " Single Action Duncan." 
But the parallel must not be pressed too closely. 

1 Quarterly Review, January 1899. 


The parliamentary combatant well equipped for the 
fray need never wait long for his opportunity. As a 
rule, he is prompt and even importunate to seize it. 
The naval commander, on the other hand, cannot 
make his opportunities. He can only take them when 
they come. " His object," as Nelson said in a pregnant 
sentence, " is to embrace the happy moment which 
now and then offers — it may be this day, not for a 
month, and perhaps never." For this his whole life 
must be a preparation. With an instant readiness to 
perceive, seize, and improve the happy moment when 
it comes, he must be content even if it never does 
come. To many a mute, inglorious Nelson it may 
never come. To Duncan it came at the battle of 
Camperdown. But it only came when he had been 
more than fifty years in the service. In this he at 
once resembles and differs from Hamilton. Each was 
master of his art. But Hamilton found his opportunity 
early in life and never sought another, though he 
might have found them by the score. Opportunity 
constantly passed Duncan by, and only found him at 
last when his course was well-nigh run. The two 
were alike in readiness of preparation, but unlike in 
felicity of opportunity. Hamilton was " Single Speech 
Hamilton " by choice ; Duncan was " Single Action 
Duncan " by necessity. Hamilton lives only in a nick- 
name ; Duncan lives in the memory of a splendid 

And yet he does not all live. No contemporary 
biographer thought his life worthy of detailed record, 
and naval historians have for the most part treated 
his great victory as an insignificant episode in the 
vast drama of Napoleonic war — an episode which 
raised no strategic issues of more than subordinate 
moment. At last, just a hundred years after the battle 
of Camperdown was fought and won, the present Earl 
of Camperdown, the great-grandson of the victor who 
never himself bore the title which commemorates his 
victory, has laudably sought to place on record such 


memorials of his great ancestor as may still be 
salvaged from the wreck of time. Writing on the 
hundredth anniversary of the battle which Duncan 
won, Lord Camperdown says : 

Just one hundred years have passed since the sea- 
fight off Camperdown on October 11, 1797, which 
decided the fate of the Dutch Navy ; and a Centenary 
seems a not inopportune moment to place on record 
some incidents in the life and naval career of Admiral 
Duncan which have hitherto remained unpublished. 

He had the honour to be one of the great Sea 
Commanders whom the perils of Great Britain in the 
eighteenth century called into existence. Boscawen, 
Hawke, Keppel, Howe, Rodney, Hood, St. Vincent, 
Nelson, Collingwood, were of the number. Of all 
these famous sailors there are written memorials, 
which will keep their memory green as long as there 
is a British Empire, and which tell how, in the 
eighteenth century, superior seamanship and daring 
time after time warded off and finally brought to 
naught combinations of Great Britain's enemies which 
seemed irresistible. 

It is no longer possible to write such a life of 
Duncan as Southey, still quivering with the emotions 
of a great national struggle, wrote of Nelson at the 
beginning of the last century, or as Captain Mahan has 
written at its close, availing himself of all the materials 
which an abiding interest in the most romantic and 
most brilliant of naval careers has amassed in such 
profusion. Nor does the subject demand a treatment 
either so classical or so exhaustive. Duncan was not 
a Nelson. He lacked that daemonic force of genius, 
that magnetic charm of personality which made 
Nelson unique. But he was a great seaman, and he 
lived in an age of great seamen. He entered the Navy 
in the year of Culloden and died the year before 
Trafalgar. He was Keppel's pupil and afterwards his 
favourite captain. " He may truly be said to have 
received his professional education in Keppel's school, 
having served under him in the several ranks of mid- 


shipman, third, second, and first lieutenant, flag and 
post captain ; indeed, with the exception of a short 
time with Captain Barrington, he had no other com- 
mander during the Seven Years' War." 

At different times he served under Boscawen, 
Hawke, Rodney, and Howe. Jervis was his con- 
temporary and friend. Nelson himself wrote after the 
battle of the Nile that he had " profited by his example," 
and a close resemblance may be traced between the 
mode of attack adopted by Duncan at Camperdown 
and that adopted by Nelson at Trafalgar. But though 
he lived in an age of war and fought in many a famous 
fight, his career reached no heroic level until his 
opportunity came at last after fifty years of service. 
Yet, little as we now can know of the details of his 
youthful years, it is plain from that little that when- 
ever his opportunity had come he would have been 
equal to it. It is certain that quite early in his career 
he acquired a reputation for courage and coolness ; 
and " there is a tradition," says his biographer, " that 
he was always first to volunteer for the boats or to 
lead the boarders." After Camperdown a blue-jacket 
wrote home to his father : " They say as how they 
are going to make a Lord of our Admiral. They 
can't make too much of him. He is heart of oak; he 
is a seaman every inch of him, and as to a bit of a 
broadside, it only makes the old cock young again." 
Many anecdotes attest his skill as a seaman, and one 
in particular deserves to be quoted as showing what 
seamanship meant in those days : 

The Monarch was a notoriously indifferent sailer, 
and uncoppered when Duncan commanded her; 
and yet he was able in sailing to hold his own with 
ships far superior to her, in Rodney's action with 
Langara off Cape St. Vincent in 1780, and on other 
occasions. As an instance of her smartness, his 
nephew, Mr. Haldane, has narrated how on one 
occasion, when pursuing some French men-of-war, 
" the Monarch, outsailing the rest of the Squadron, 


got into the midst of a Convoy, and her discipline was 
such that boats were let down on each side without 
swamping, filled with armed crews to take possession 
of the prizes, whilst the Monarch never slackened her 
speed, but with studding sails set, bore down on the 
flying ships of war." 

There is evidence, too, to show that, like all great 
sea-captains, from Drake to Nelson, Duncan possessed 
that rare instinct for war which never lets an oppor- 
tunity slip, is never daunted by mere numbers, and 
knows when to yield to what Captain Mahan calls " an^ 
inspired blindness which at the moment of decisive 
action sees not the risks but the one only road to 
possible victory." Perhaps no campaign in which a 
British fleet has ever engaged is a finer touchstone of 
this instinct than that which ended so ingloriously 
when Sir Charles Hardy retreated up the Channel 
before D'Orvilliers in 1779. Lord Camperdown 
briefly describes it and Duncan's share in it as follows : 

During the summer of 1779 the Monarch was 
attached to the Channel Fleet, now under the com- 
mand of Sir Charles Hardy owing to the resignation 
of Admiral Keppel. 

Spain had declared war in the month of June, and 
on July 9 it was announced by Royal Proclamation 
that an invasion by a combined French and Spanish 
force was to be apprehended. 

The French fleet sailing from Brest under Count 
D'Orvilliers was permitted without opposition to unite 
with the Spanish fleet under Don Luis de Cordova, and 
on August 16 sixty-six sail of the line were off Ply- 
mouth. The Channel Fleet had missed them, and was 
to the south-west of Scilly. 

In the Channel Fleet were men who were burning 
to engage the enemy. Captain Jervis in the Foudroyant 
wrote to his sister : 

11 August 24, twenty leagues south-west of Scilly. 

"A long easterly wind has prevented our getting 
into the Channel, to measure with the combined fleets. 
What a humiliating state is our country reduced to ! 


Not that I have the smallest doubt of clearing the 
coast of these proud invaders. The first westerly 
wind will carry us into the combined fleets. ... I and 
all around me have the fullest confidence of success 
and of acquiring immortal reputation." 

On August 29 a strong easterly wind forced the 
combined fleets down the Channel, and on September 1 
they found themselves in presence of the British 
Fleet a few miles from the Eddystone. 

Sir Charles Hardy had only thirty-eight ships, 
and deciding that it would be imprudent to risk an 
engagement, he retreated up the Channel, and on 
September 3 anchored at Spithead, much to the 
disgust of some of his officers. Captain Jervis, who 
in the Foudroyant was second astern of Sir Charles 
Hardy in the Victory, wrote : " I am in the most 
humbled state of mind I ever experienced, from the 
retreat we have made before the combined fleets all 
yesterday and all this morning." 

Captain Duncan told his nephew of his own im- 
potent indignation and shame, and how he could " only 
stand looking over the stern gallery of the Monarch." 

This was probably the only occasion on which 
either of those officers retreated before an enemy. 
The fundamental article of their nautical creed was 
that an enemy when once encountered must not be 
permitted to part company without an action. From 
this line of conduct neither of them willingly ever 
deviated one hair's-breadth. It is safe to assert that 
if either had on that day been in a position to give 
orders to the Channel Fleet a larger Cape St. Vincent 
or a larger Camperdown would have been fought off 
Scilly, though not impossibly with a different result. 
If, however, the Foudroyant and the Monarch had been 
sunk, it is certain from their record that French and 
Spanish ships would have gone down as well, and 
that even if the combined fleets had come off victori- 
ous, their condition would have been such as to give 
England no cause for apprehension on the score of 

As events happened, the combined fleets held for 
some weeks undisputed command of the Channel, 
but, happily for Great Britain, neglected to make any 
use of their advantage. The Spaniards wished to 


effect a landing ; the French wished before landing 
to defeat the British fleet. The crews became sickly ; 
the ships were defective, and the season for equinoctial 
gales was at hand. The Spanish commander declared 
to Count D'Orvilliers that he must relinquish the 
present enterprise and return to the ports of his own 
country ; and the French admiral had no other course 
open to him but to acquiesce and to retire to Brest. 

This critical episode in our naval history has per- 
haps never been quite adequately appreciated. The 
odds were tremendous — thirty-eight British ships of 
the line against sixty-six in the combined French and 
Spanish fleets — far greater odds than Nelson en- 
countered when he attacked thirty-three ships of the 
line with twenty-seven at Trafalgar. The late Admiral 
Colomb thought that " the only reasonable strategy for 
Sir Charles Hardy was that adopted so long before by 
Lord Torrington, a policy of observation and threaten- 
ing; and such a policy would have left the British 
fleet at St. Helen's with abundant scouts ... to 
give the earliest information of the enemy's approach." 
But Hardy adopted neither Torrington's strategy nor 
that of his critics. For nearly the whole of the month 
of August he cruised aimlessly in the Soundings — as 
the region between Ushant and Cape Clear, known 
as "the Sleeve" to Elizabethan seamen, was then 
called — leaving D'Orvilliers to the eastward with the 
whole of the Channel open to him, though he was 
by no means in " undisputed command" of it. More 
by good luck than by any skill in tactics or the 
pursuit of any strategic purpose that can now be dis- 
cerned, Hardy managed, towards the end of the month, 
to get to the eastward of an antagonist apparently 
as supine or else as incapable as himself; and, though 
the fleets were now in contact, his one thought was 
retreat. On the evening of September 3, he anchored 
in comparative safety at Spithead. 

These proceedings are quite unintelligible. If Hardy 
did not intend to risk an action except on his own 

i 4 o DUNCAN 

terms, he never should have been in the Soundings 
at all. On the other hand, D'Orvilliers' proceedings 
seem to have been equally inept, and can only be 
explained by supposing that his fleet was paralysed 
by sickness, by ill-equipment, and by divided counsels. 
Now what would Nelson have done in such a case ? 
He was, says Captain Mahan, " a man with whom 
moral effect was never in excess of the facts of the 
case, whose imagination produced in him no paralysing 
picture of remote contingencies." Shortly before 
Trafalgar " he expressed with the utmost decision his 
clear appreciation that even a lost battle would frus- 
trate the ulterior objects of the enemy, by crippling 
the force upon which they depended." Torrington, 
we know, would have temporized. He would never 
have gone to the Soundings. Before all things he 
would have striven to keep his fleet " in being." 
"Whilst we observe the French," he said, "they 
cannot make any attempt on ships or shore without 
running a great hazard ; and if we are beaten all is 
exposed to their mercy." To have gone to the 
Soundings would have been to put himself, as Howard 
of Effingham said on a like occasion, " clean out of the 
way of any service against " the enemy. He would rather 
have placed himself where he could best observe the 
enemy's movements, and would at any rate have taken 
care never to lose touch of them. This is no doubt 
the correct strategy of the situation, and had Hardy 
adopted it none could have blamed him. But it is 
not necessarily the strategy that would have commen- 
ded itself to a consummate master of naval war. 
Nelson would not have been daunted by the mere 
disparity of numbers. When with eleven ships of 
the line only he was following Villeneuve back from 
the West Indies, he said to his captains : 

I am thankful that the enemy has been driven from 
the West India islands with so little loss to our coun- 
try. I had made up my mind to great sacrifices ; for 
I had determined, notwithstanding his vast superiority, 


to stop his career, and to put it out of his power to 
do further mischief. Yet do not imagine that I am 
one of those hot-brained people who fight at immense 
disadvantage without an adequate object. My object 
is partly gained. If we meet them we shall find 
them not less than eighteen, I rather think twenty sail 
of the line, and therefore do not be surprised if I 
should not fall on them immediately : we won't part 
without a battle. I think they will be glad to let me 
alone, if I will let them alone ; which I will do, either 
till we approach the shores of Europe, or they give 
me an advantage too tempting to be resisted. 

In these memorable words the strategy of Torrington 
is transfigured, but not superseded, by the genius of 
Nelson. Had he been in Hardy's place, Nelson, we 
may be sure, would never have gone to the Sound- 
ings ; he would have observed and threatened, as 
Admiral Colomb said ; he would not have " fought 
at a great disadvantage without an adequate object," 
as Nottingham insisted on Torrington's doing; but 
he would not have parted without a battle. Had he 
found D'Orvilliers inclined to "let him alone," that 
would have been his reason for not letting D'Orvilliers 
alone. He would have seen at once that D'Orvilliers' 
obvious reluctance to risk a decisive engagement, 
notwithstanding his vast superiority, was just the 
reason why he on his side should seize an 
advantage too tempting to be resisted. He might 
not know what D'Orvilliers' precise reasons were for 
not risking an engagement ; but his unerring instinct 
for war and its opportunities would have told him 
that this was just one of the occasions on which he 
might make great sacrifices in order to stop his 
adversary's career, and " put it out of his power to 
do any further mischief." 

It is, indeed, hardly possible to doubt that had 
Nelson been in Hardy's place the defeat of D'Orvilliers 
would have been as crushing as that of the Armada. 
So much is clear from the general character of the 
situation viewed in the light of Nelson's recorded 

i 4 2 DUNCAN 

opinions. The conclusion is confirmed and rendered 
practically certain by the known attitude of Jervis and 
Duncan. Both were prepared to fight against the 
odds that had daunted their chief, and both were 
confident of victory. Both must have satisfied them- 
selves that D'Orvilliers had no stomach for fighting, 
and each must have felt that that was the best reason 
for attempting, at all hazards, out of the nettle danger 
to pluck the flower safety. Lord North said after- 
wards in the House of Commons that u had Sir 
Charles Hardy known then, as he did afterwards, 
the internal state of the combined fleet, he would 
have wished and earnestly sought an engagement 
notwithstanding his inferiority of force." Hardy knew 
this only when it was too late. Jervis and Duncan 
knew it or divined it at the time. Nelson's spirit was 
theirs, and they had not served under Hawke for 
nothing. The man who wins in battle, said Napoleon, 
is the man who is last afraid. Bene ausus vana con- 
tetnnere, as Livy says of Alexander's conquest of 
Darius, is the eternal secret of triumphant war. This 
is the temper that wins great victories, and may even 
defy overwhelming odds. Jervis had it, and it won 
him his famous victory at St. Vincent, where he fear- 
lessly attacked and vanquished twenty-seven Spanish 
ships with fifteen British, because, as he said, " a 
victory is very essential to England at this moment." 
Duncan showed it at the Texel when, as Mr. Newbolt 
sings : 

Fifteen sail were the Dutchmen bold, 

Duncan he had but two ; 
But he anchored them fast where the Texel shoaled, 

And his colours aloft he flew. 
11 I've taken the depth to a fathom," he cried, 

"And I'll sink with a right good will: 
For I know when we're all of us under the tide, 

My flag will be fluttering still." 

Such a man was Duncan in those earlier days of 
which no full record can now be recovered. We 


see how skilfully he could handle his ship as a captain, 
how soundly he could estimate a situation as critical 
as British naval history presents. In person " he was 
of size and strength almost gigantic. He is described 
as six feet four in height, and of corresponding breadth. 
When a young lieutenant walking through the streets 
of Chatham his grand figure and handsome face 
attracted crowds of admirers, and to the last he is 
spoken of as a singularly handsome man." His bodily 
strength was effectively displayed on a memorable 
occasion during the mutiny : 

On May 13 there was a serious rising on board 
the Adamant. The Admiral proceeded on board, 
hoisted his flag, and mustered the ship's company. 
" My lads," he said, " I am not in the smallest degree 
apprehensive of any violent measures you may have 
in contemplation ; and though I assure you I would 
much rather acquire your love than incur your fear, 
I will with my own hand put to death the first man 
who shall display the slightest signs of rebellious 
conduct." He then demanded to know if there was 
any individual who presumed to dispute his authority 
or that of the officers. A man came forward and said 
insolently, " I do." The Admiral immediately seized 
him by the collar and thrust him over the side of the 
ship, where he held him suspended by one arm, and 
said, " My lads, look at this fellow, he who dares to 
deprive me of the command of the fleet." 

But in spite of these great qualities, well known to 
his comrades and superiors and not unknown to his 
countrymen at large, Duncan never came to the front 
until the close of his career. He became a captain in 
1 76 1, when he was only thirty years of age, and was 
promoted to flag rank twenty-six years later, in 1787. 
Of these twenty-six years more than half were spent 
upon half-pay. Even after he became an admiral he 
had to endure another period of inactivity, lasting for 
eight years, until his appointment in 1795 to the com- 
mand of the North Sea fleet. Political sympathies 
and antipathies may have had something to do with 


this, for in those days a man often obtained employ- 
ment in the Navy, not on account of his professional 
fitness, but in virtue of his political influence and 
complexion. But though Duncan belonged to a Whig 
family and inclined to Whig principles, he "never at 
any time in his life took any active part in politics," 
and his close association with Keppel's fortunes does 
not seem to have injured his professional prospects. 
The truth seems to be, as Lord Camperdown acknow- 
ledges, that the alternations of peace and war, of 
rapid and slow promotion, of frequent and infrequent 
employment, occurred in Duncan's career not favour- 
ably for his advancement : 

It was his ill-luck to be born at the wrong time 
for advancement as a captain. As a lieutenant he 
came in for the Seven Years' War, and took every 
advantage of his opportunities, but he became a captain 
just before the peace of 1763, and had only had time 
for the expedition to Belle-isle and the Havannah. 

The years which followed his promotion to flag 
rank — 

were likewise years of peace ; and a junior rear- 
admiral could hardly expect a command under such 
circumstances. Nor does it seem that he would have 
fared better if he had been born ten or fifteen years 
sooner or later. If he had been a captain early in 
the Seven Years' War, he would have had nothing 
to do as an admiral. If he had entered the service 
at the end of the Seven Years' War he would have 
had no opportunity of making his name as a lieutenant. 

Thus the early promotions of the last century, which 
naval officers of these days sometimes regard with 
envy, were no guarantee of a distinguished career. 
Duncan was a captain at thirty, but he became an 
admiral only at fifty-six, and he never commanded a 
fleet at sea until he was sixty-four. The only 
advantage he had over officers of the present day is 
that " the blind Fury " of compulsory retirement never 


came " with th' abhorred shears and slit the thin-spun 
life" of his active service. In these days Duncan 
would have been retired as a captain a year before 
he was promoted to flag-rank. As a rear-admiral or 
as a flag-officer who had not hoisted his flag he would 
again have been retired four years before he took 
command of the North Sea fleet. Even as a vice- 
admiral in command of that fleet he would have been 
retired a year before the battle of Camperdown was 
fought. Compulsory retirement is no doubt a necessity, 
but it is not always an advantage. The promotion 
of a dozen men of the stamp of Sir Charles Hardy 
would be dearly purchased by the retirement of a 
single Jervis or a single Duncan. 

Duncan has been called, not without reason, one 
of the " suppressed characters " of naval history. 
There is another " suppressed character " with whom 
his name is closely and most honourably associated. 
Perhaps no man's share in the overthrow of Napoleon 
and the triumph of British naval arms has been less 
adequately appreciated by historians in general than 
that of the second Earl Spencer, Pitt's First Lord of 
the Admiralty from 1794 to 1801. Assuming office 
shortly after Howe's victory of the First of June, Lord 
Spencer remained First Lord of the Admiralty until 
Pitt resigned at the beginning of the first year of the 
century. In this period the mutinies at Spithead and 
the Nore were encountered and composed — we can 
hardly call them suppressed — and the victories of St. 
Vincent, Camperdown, and the Nile were won. But 
this was perhaps as much Spencer's fortune as his 
merit. His true glory consists in his admirable 
devotion to the affairs of the navy, in the insight, 
judgment, and tact with which he selected and sup- 
ported such men as St. Vincent, Duncan, and Nelson. 
Some of his own letters are preserved in the corre- 
spondence of Nelson and some in the papers of 
Duncan. But unfortunately the bulk of his private 
correspondence with these and other great naval heroes 


1 46 DUNCAN 

was destroyed by accident at Althorp, and thus the 
world has been deprived of an authentic and detailed 
record of his administration, though students of naval 
history will find in the materials we have indicated 
abundant evidence of its quality. Nor will they fail 
to appreciate the part played by his gifted wife in 
furthering the triumphs of his administration. A 
leader and queen of society, fascinating, generous, and 
nobly impulsive, Lady Spencer knew how to second 
her husband's labours by her rare gift of sympathy 
without ever attempting to usurp his responsibilities. 
Her ecstatic letter to Nelson congratulating him on 
his triumph at the Nile is well known. It has passed 
into the literature of the battle. Lord Camperdown 
enables us to compare it with the letter she wrote to 
Duncan after the battle of Camperdown, and from 
the comparison to draw the inference, sustained by 
other letters from the same pen, that no First Lord 
of the Admiralty was ever happier in the generous 
sympathies of a wife who knew so well how to touch 
a sailor's heart : 

What shall I say to you, my dear and victorious 
Admiral ? Where shall I find words to convey to 
you the slightest idea of the enthusiasm created by 
your glorious, splendid, and memorable achievements ? 
Not in the English Language ; and no other is worthy 
of being used upon so truly British an exploit. As 
an English woman, as an Irish woman, as Lord 
Spencer's wife, I cannot express to you my grateful 
feelings. But amongst the number of delightful 
sensations which crowd upon me since Friday last, 
surprise is not included. The man who has struggled 
thro' all the difficulties of everlasting N. Sea Cruizes, 
of hardships of every kind, of storms, of cold, of 
perpetual disappointments, without a murmur, without 
a regret, and lastly who most unprecedently braved 
an enemy's fleet of sixteen or twenty sail of the line, 
with only two Men of War in a state of mutiny to 
oppose them : That Man, acquiring the honour and 
glory you have done on the nth of October did not 
surprize me. But greatly have you been rewarded 


for your past sufferings. Never will a fairer fame 
descend to posterity than yours, and the gratitude 
of a great nation must give you feelings which will 
thaw away all that remains of your Northern mists 
and miseries. God, who allowed you to reap so 
glorious an harvest of honour and glory, who rewarded 
your well borne toils by such extraordinary success, 
keep you safe and well to enjoy for many years the 
fame He enabled you to acquire on this most dis- 
tinguished occasion. 

Ever yours with gratitude and esteem, 

Lavinia Spencer. 

If we except Sir John Laughton, whose notice of 
Lord Spencer in the Dictionary of National Biography 
only anticipated by a few weeks the publication of 
Lord Camperdown's volume, Lord Camperdown is 
perhaps the first writer to recognize the full splendour 
of Lord Spencer's services and to do tardy justice 
to his memory. It is due to both to extract the 
following just and graceful tribute : 

It is not possible to allow Lord Spencer to pass 
off the scene without a word of tribute to his ad- 
ministration. When he became First Lord of the 
Admiralty he found the Navy sunk in disorder and 
neglect, and among the Officers a want of confidence 
in the Administration at home. He succeeded in 
selecting capable Admirals for every command, with 
all of whom he by incessant labour maintained intimate 
and constant relations. He was full of energy and 
ideas. If he did not always appreciate and realize 
so fully as they did through their experience the 
defects of the ships under their command, both in 
number and quality, he did the best that he could 
in the way of apportioning and manipulating the 
forces which were at his disposal, while he never 
ceased to urge the necessity of an energetic and 
vigorous policy, and to express his conviction that 
the British Fleets would prove victorious. All the 
Admirals felt confidence in him, as their memoirs and 
letters show, and at the time of his resignation the 
Navy was animated by a splendid spirit, and contained 


a large number of Officers whose names afterwards 
became household words. He performed a great 
service to his country, which ought always to be kept 
in remembrance. To use Lady Spencer's eloquent 
words, " England, Ireland, and India were all saved 
by victories won during his term of office," and in 
no inconsiderable degree through his means. Taking 
his administration and policy as a whole he did as 
much as any man— perhaps more than any one man — 
to ruin the fortunes of Napoleon upon the ocean. 

It was to Lord Spencer's sagacity that the country 
owed Duncan's appointment to the command in the 
North Sea. It is recorded that " in going over the 
list of Admirals with Mr. Henry Dundas, Lord 
Spencer said, ■ What can be the reason that " Keppel's 
Duncan " has never been brought forward ? ' Upon 
this Mr. Dundas said that he thought he would like 
employment, and added that he had married his niece. 
The same night he was appointed Commander-in- 
Chief in the North Sea." 

The story is characteristic. Very likely Dundas's 
recommendation of his niece's husband turned the 
scale ; but he owed at least that much to his kinsman, 
for before the marriage he had pledged his niece never, 
directly or indirectly, to use any influence to induce 
Duncan to give up his profession, and she had 
faithfully kept the pledge — no difficult task perhaps 
in the case of a husband so wedded to the sea. In 
any case it is clear, however, that Spencer had his 
eye on Duncan before he was made aware of Dundas's 
interest in him, and certainly no appointment did 
greater credit to his insight. 

Duncan's position was a very difficult one from first 
to last. The North Sea was no established station 
for a British fleet. It was improvised for the occasion 
when Holland fell under the sway of Napoleon and 
the Dutch fleet became an important factor in the 
European conflict. As was the station so was the 
fleet. It was necessary to blockade the Texel, but 


it was not possible to tell off a fully organized and 
well equipped fleet for the purpose. Duncan had 
to take such ships as he could get, and such as he had 
were constantly ordered about by the Admiralty on 
detached or independent service without so much as 
consulting him beforehand. A letter from Sir Charles 
Middleton — afterwards that Lord Barham who fortu- 
nately for his own fame and his country's welfare was 
First Lord of the Admiralty at the close of the 
Trafalgar campaign — well serves to illustrate the 
situation. In August 1795 he wrote : 

My own wish is to have your force very strong, 
but I plainly perceive from the many irons we have 
in the fire that I shall be overruled. The same cause 
obliges us to employ your frigates on many extra 
services, and which I have charged the secretary to 
acquaint you with as often as it happens; but necessary 
as this information is for your guidance I am afraid it 
is often forgot. 

Several letters from Lord Spencer himself are to the 
same effect, and though very few of Duncan's own 
letters are preserved it is plain that the difficulties of 
the situation weighed heavily upon him. At various 
times during his command he had a large Russian 
squadron under his orders. The Russian ships were, 
however, unfit for winter cruising, and therefore, dur- 
ing the worst season of the year, the brunt of the 
blockade often fell upon Duncan's attenuated and 
overworked squadron. Moreover, the presence of the 
Russian ships was not without its embarrassments. 
He had no very high opinion of their quality, and on 
two occasions at least he went so far as to protest 
against his being expected to go to sea with Russian 
ships alone under his command, his own ships being 
employed on various detached services. In November 
1795 he wrote to Lord Spencer : 

I never could see any reason for the Russian fleet 
being detained through the winter, but to be ready 


early in the spring, and it always was my opinion that 
they were unfit for winter cruising. Now, as to myself, 
I will say what I once did before : I am the first 
British Admiral that ever was ordered on service with 
foreigners only, and I must beg further to say that I 
shall look upon it as an indignity if some British ships 
are not directed to attend me. 

It is significant of much that a man of Duncan's 
self-possession and sense of discipline should write in 
this strain. He was not the man to complain needlessly, 
and his tact, patience, and good sense had reduced to 
a minimum the friction that inevitably attends the co- 
operation of allied fleets ; but he felt that a great 
charge had been entrusted to him, and that the means 
with which he was furnished were inadequate to 
enable him to satisfy the country's expectations. But 
in spite of an occasional complaint, which was assured- 
ly not ill-founded, his whole attitude was that which 
Torrington long ago expressed in words which the 
British Navy has often so splendidly justified : " My 
Lord, I know my business and will do the best with 
what I have." On the other hand, it may fairly be 
held that had a Byng, a Hardy, or a Calder been in 
Duncan's place the country might have had to rue a 
very different issue from the campaign in the North Sea. 
Opinions may differ as to the quality and temper of 
the Dutch fleet. But the quality of any fleet which is 
preparing to take the sea cannot prudently be taken 
by its enemy at any estimate but a high one. The 
war was in its early stages, its area was widening, the 
contagion of the French Revolution was fast spreading 
beyond the borders of France, and in the spring of 
1795 an alliance was concluded between the French 
and Batavian Republics, by which it was agreed that 
Holland should aid France with twelve ships of the 
line and eighteen frigates, as well as with half the 
Dutch troops under arms. This was no insignificant 
addition to the naval forces of a Power, which since 
the beginning of the war, had only once crossed 


swords with England in a fleet action at sea, and then, 
though defeated, had not been overpowered. The 
" glorious victory " of the First of June acquired that 
honourable epithet partly from the brilliant results 
immediately attained by it — the two sides were fairly 
matched at the outset and Lord Howe captured six 
French ships of the line — but still more perhaps from 
the fact that it was the first naval victory of a war 
which had then lasted more than a year. Though a 
decisive tactical victory, it was, in a strategic sense, of 
little moment. Villaret's fleet was not destroyed — as 
it might have been had not Montagu's squadron been 
injudiciously detached from Lord Howe's flag — and 
the great convoy which was coming across the Atlantic 
to the relief of Brest was not intercepted. In a stra- 
tegic sense, in fact, Villaret had outmanoeuvred his 
adversary. Robespierre had told him that if the 
convoy was captured his head should pay the penalty. 
He lost the battle, but he saved the convoy and saved 
his head. Lord Howe missed the main object for 
which he had manoeuvred and fought. 

This was in 1794. A year later the French obtained 
strategic control of twelve Dutch ships of the line, 
twice the number they had lost in Lord Howe's action, 
and the theatre of war was enlarged by the inclusion 
of the North Sea. The scenes were now setting for 
the great drama which ended at Trafalgar, but no one 
could tell as yet where its main episodes would be en- 
acted, nor who were the actors cast for its leading 
parts. Near at hand, in the north, Duncan was estab- 
lishing that firm grip on the Texel which, notwith- 
standing his slender and fortuitous forces, in spite of 
the mutiny, and through all the vicissitudes of season, 
wind, and storm, was never relaxed until the Dutch 
fleet was defeated off Camperdown, and the Texel 
itself, together with all that remained of the Dutch 
fleet, was surrendered in 1799. Far away in the south 
Hotham was vainly striving to vanquish the fleet 
which Hood had failed to destroy at Toulon, and 

i 5 2 DUNCAN 

Nelson, still a captain, was chafing bitterly at his 
chief's repeated failure to do what he knew he could 
have done himself. Midway in the Atlantic Bridport 
was showing by his action with Villaret off* He Groix 
that he, at least, was not the coming man. 

Such was the situation in 1795. There were three 
fleets of the enemy, at the Texel, at Brest, and at 
Toulon, to be watched, encountered, and if possible 
destroyed, and Duncan, Bridport, and Hotham were 
the three men on whom, for the time, the fate of 
England depended. Bridport and Hotham each had 
his opportunity and missed it. Duncan alone remained 
steadfast to the end, waited for his opportunity, and 
seized it. Historians, wise after the event, have chosen 
to assume that Duncan's position was the least impor- 
tant of the three, but at the time no man could have 
foretold at which point the stress of conflict was likely 
to be felt most urgently. From the Texel a fleet and 
an expedition might have issued, and could they have 
evaded Duncan's watch they might have gained the 
open either for a descent on Ireland, or for some 
combination with the other forces of the enemy. 
From Brest, as we know, a year after Bridport had 
failed to destroy Villaret at He Groix, a fleet and 
expedition did issue, and, evading Bridport's watch, 
effected a descent upon Ireland, which might have 
succeeded for anything that Bridport did to prevent 
it. From Toulon, as we also know, long after Hotham 
had failed to destroy Martin in the Gulf of Lions, a 
fleet and expedition also issued, which a greater than 
Hotham finally shattered at the Nile. It needed the 
untoward fortunes of a Hoche and a Morard de Galles 
to undo the neglect of Bridport. It needed the splen- 
did genius of Nelson to repair the blunders of Hotham. 
Duncan neglected no opportunities and made no 
blunders. He watched the Dutch fleet, fought and 
defeated it as soon as it put to sea, and compelled its 
final surrender as soon as troops were sent for a 
military occupation of the Helder. Yet historians, 


viewing the whole situation in the light of its final 
outcome, persist in regarding Duncan's achievement 
as a mere episode devoid of strategic moment, and in 
concentrating their whole attention on the more cen- 
tral theatre of war. It is true that no fleet of the 
enemy, whether at the Texel, at Brest, or at Toulon, 
could compass any of the larger ends of naval war 
except by defeating the British fleet immediately con- 
fronting it. Hoche's expedition failed chiefly through 
defiance of this inexorable principle. It was an at- 
tempt to do by evasion what can only be done with 
safety and certainty by sea supremacy established 
beforehand. Napoleon's expedition failed for the same 
reason. The projected expedition from the Texel 
must also have failed for the same reason in the end, 
could it ever have succeeded in setting out. But of 
the three men charged in 1795 with the safety and 
fate of England, Duncan alone proved equal to his 
trust ; Bridport and Hotham failed. His name should 
stand in naval history, not merely as the hero of an 
isolated and barren victory, but as a seaman of like 
quality with Jervis and Nelson themselves — rather a 
Hood than a Howe, and far above the level of the 
Bridports, the Hothams, the Manns, the Ordes, the 
Keiths, and the Calders. 

He had dogged persistency of purpose and a stern 
sense of discipline, without that inflexible austerity 
which made the discipline of Jervis' squadron a 
terror to seamen and a byword to captains trained 
in a laxer school. With Nelson he shared the rare 
gift of tempering firmness with kindness, of seeking 
to do by love what men of the mould of Jervis must 
fain compass by fear. With both he shared that 
grasp of the situation before him and its requirements 
which more than anything else is the note of a native 
genius for war. He would make no terms with 
mutiny. Had he commanded at the Nore the rule of 
Parker would assuredly have been a brief one. " I 
hear," he wrote, " that people from the ships at Sheer- 


ness go ashore in numbers and play the devil. Why 
are there not troops to lay hold of them and secure 
all the boats that come from them? As to the 
Sandwich, you should get her cast adrift in the night 
and let her go on the sands, that the scoundrels may 
drown ; for until some example is made this will not 

This was his attitude towards open mutiny ; but he 
never allowed it to blind him to the fact that the 
grievances of the seamen were real and serious, and 
the shortcomings of the Admiralty deplorable. Pitt 
said that the best service Duncan ever performed for 
his country was in respect of the mutiny, and no one 
who reads Lord Camperdown's chapter on the subject 
can doubt that Pitt was right. The mutiny occurred 
at the very crisis of the blockade of the Texel, when 
the Dutch fleet was ready to sail accompanied by 
troops, and when, if ever, it might have sailed with 
some prospect of success. Duncan was fully informed 
of what was happening at Spithead and the Nore. 
He knew very well that the spirit of discontent there 
displayed was rife throughout the whole navy, that 
it rested on solid grounds of grievance, and that it 
might at any moment break out in his own fleet. It 
did break out, and for some days only two ships of 
the line recognized the authority of his flag, the re- 
mainder going off to join their revolted comrades at 
the Nore. Yet he never allowed his own flag to be 
hauled down, and so quickly and thoroughly did he 
re-establish his personal ascendency, that although 
his own ship the Venerable had at the outset shown 
some alarming signs of disaffection, he was ready, if 
called upon, to lead it against the mutineers at the 
Nore, and was assured by his ship's company that 
they would obey his orders even in that emergency. 
" It is with the utmost regret," they wrote, "we hear 
of the proceedings of different ships in the squadron, 
but sincerely hope their present agrievances will be 
redressed as soon as possible, as it would appear un- 


natural for us to unsheath the sword against our 
brethren, notwithstanding we would wish to show 
ourselves like men in behalf of our Commander 
should necessity require." 

A few days later, when Duncan set sail for the 
Texel, all his ships deserted him but two, his own 
flagship and the Adamant, both of which, as we have 
seen, had previously been reduced to obedience by 
his own personal prowess. Nevertheless, he held on 
for the Texel without a moment's hesitation, for he 
knew that the Dutch fleet was ready to sail, that the 
wind was fair, and that the paralysis which had 
smitten the British Navy was well known to the 
enemy. Two or three smaller ships accompanied him, 
and at least one of these, the Circe, was only kept 
from open mutiny before the enemy by the splendid 
fortitude of her captain, who for six days and nights 
sat back to back on deck with his first lieutenant, 
" with a loaded carbine in hand and cocked pistols in 
their belts, issuing orders to the officers and the few 
men who remained dutiful." How Duncan bore him- 
self in this crisis has already been told in Mr. 
Newbolt's stirring lines, which are really only a 
metrical paraphrase of the original narrative : 

When the Admiral found himself off the Texel 
with only one ship of fifty guns besides his own, he 
quickly made up his mind what to do. " Vice-Admiral 
Onslow came on board the Venerable and suggested 
Leith Roads as a retreat of security against either an 
attack from the Texel or, what was infinitely more to 
be dreaded, the return of a detachment of the rebel 
fleet from the Nore. Admiral Duncan instantly de- 
clined entering into any measure of this kind, and 
laughingly said they would suppose he wanted to see 
his wife and family and would charge him with being 
home-sick." His plan was of a different kind. The 
great duty with which he was charged was to keep 
the Texel closed ; and, with ships or without ships, 
that he intended to do. He sent for Captain Hotham 
of the Adamant and ordered him to fight her until she 


sank, as he intended to do with the Venerable. He 
then mustered the Venerable 1 s ship's company and 
told them plainly what lay before them, in an address 
of which only the substance is preserved; that the 
Venerable was to block the Texel, and that " the 
soundings were such that his flag would continue to 
fly above the shoal water after the ship and company 
had disappeared"; and that if she should survive 
this performance of her duty in Dutch waters, she 
was then to sail to the Nore and to reduce " those 
misguided men " to obedience. The ship's company 
replied, as was their custom : they said that they 
understood him and would obey his commands. 

Those misguided men were reduced, however, 
before Duncan's task at the Texel was accomplished, 
and his splendid audacity and fortitude were rewarded 
by the complete success with which the Dutch were 
hoodwinked and prevented from sailing until the crisis 
was past. He reached the Texel on June i. For 
three days and three nights the wind remained in the 
eastward, and the two ships' crews were kept at their 
quarters day and night. Then the wind changed, and 
reinforcements began to come in. It was not until 
the crisis was over that the Dutch learnt that two 
ships alone, the aggrieved but not disloyal remnant 
of a Navy in open mutiny, had been so handled as to 
make them believe that a superior force of the enemy 
had been at hand during the whole time that the wind 
had remained favourable to their enterprise. 

The signals and manoeuvres of the Admiral's two 
ships were recalled to him afterwards by Lieutenant 
Brodie, who had been present in the Rose cutter, in 
a letter written on February 26, 1798. " You passed 
the Texel in sight of the Dutch Fleet with a Red 
Flag, Rear Admiral at the Mizen, this was your First 
Squadron of two sail of the line : next day you 
appeared off the Texel with two private ships, the 
Venerable and Adamant with pendants only. This 
was two English Squadrons by the Dutch account. 
A few days after we were joined by the Russel and 


Sansparetl, when the wind came Easterly. Then the 
third Squadron of British ships came under their 
proper Admiral with Blue at the Main, and anchored 
in the mouth of the Texel, with four sail of the line, 
to block up sixteen or eighteen sail of the line, 
Frigates, etc., in all thirty-seven sail. It was then, 
my Lord, you confirmed your former manoeuvres by 
throwing out pendants to your ships or imaginary 
ships in the offing, for the Dutch believed all your 
Fleet to be there. The next day, my Lord, all was 
confirmed by an American Brig which I was sent to 
board, coming out of the Texel. — The Master informed 
me that the Dutchmen positively asserted that the 
four ships were only come in there for a decoy, and 
that there was a large fleet in the offing, as they saw 
the English Admiral making signals to them the even- 
ing he came to an anchor. 

Assuredly the victory of Camperdown itself is no 
juster title to undying fame than the whole of Duncan's 
proceedings from the beginning of the mutiny to 
its close. 

" The advantage of time and place," said Drake, " in 
all martial actions is half a victory ; which being 
lost is irrecoverable." The Dutch were soon to realize 
the truth of this pregnant saying. The wind was 
fair during the crisis of the mutiny, but the troops, 
though at hand, had not been embarked. By the 
time they were embarked, early in July, it became 
foul again, and Wolfe Tone, that stormy petrel of 
Irish disaffection and French aggression, was on board 
waiting in vain for a favourable turn. But " foul, dead 
foul " — as Nelson bitterly wrote after Villeneuve's 
escape from Toulon — it remained. On July 19 Tone 
writes, " Wind foul still " ; and on July 26, " I am 
to-day eighteen days on board, and we have not 
had eighteen minutes of fair wind." Unlike Nelson, 
who, as Captain Mahan tells us, " never trifled with 
a fair wind or with time," the Dutch had lost their 
opportunity. Perhaps they had not been over keen 
to seize it ; for though the Batavian Republic ruled 


in Holland, and France guided its counsels, the 
monarchical party was by no means extinct, and its 
cause had many supporters in the Dutch fleet. On 
June 10 a British officer was sent into the Texel 
under a flag of truce. He was very courteously 
received and entertained, and reported on his return 
that the officers whom he had seen " expressed their 
hopes of a speedy peace, and by their conversation 
appeared very adverse to the war. They, however," 
he added, ".speak very confidently of their force, and 
they have great confidence in it." The wind remained 
foul, however, and time wore on. Towards the 
middle of August the Dutch admiral, De Winter, 
pointed out to Tone that " Duncan's fleet had increased 
to seventeen sail of the line, and that the Dutch 
troops, so long pent up on shipboard, had consumed 
nearly all the provisions. It would be necessary to 
relinquish the expedition to Ireland." 

The game in fact was up, but Duncan's task was 
not accomplished. So long as the Dutch fleet lay at 
the Texel ready for sea it was his duty to watch 
it, and to fight it, if it ventured out. From the ist of 
June, when he appeared before the Texel with his 
two ships and outwitted the Dutch by " setting on 
a brag countenance," as Howard of Effingham said, 
until September 20, when he was directed by the 
Admiralty to return to Yarmouth to refit, fill up with 
stores and provisions, and again proceed with all 
despatch to his station, he never relaxed his hold, and 
never gave the Dutchmen a chance. At times rein- 
forced from home, only to be weakened again by the 
withdrawal of ships required by the Admiralty to 
strengthen Jervis in the Mediterranean, harassed by 
winds which, though they kept the Dutch in port, 
constantly drove him to leeward of his station, shat- 
tered by violent gales which sorely tried his none too 
seaworthy ships and constantly interrupted his supply 
of stores, he held on with a tenacity not unworthy of 
Nelson off Toulon, or of Cornwallis off Brest. 


But like Nelson at Toulon, Duncan was destined by 
an untoward fate to be away from his station when 
the moment of crisis came at last. Shortly after he 
was recalled to Yarmouth by the Admiralty, De 
Winter was ordered to take the Dutch fleet to sea. 
All thought of a military expedition to be covered 
by it had now been abandoned. But the Naval 
Committee at the Hague appear to have thought that 
the time had come for attempting to destroy or at 
least to cripple the hostile fleet which had so long 
blockaded their ports. De Winter's instructions were 
dated July 10, a time when Wolfe Tone was daily 
expecting a military expedition to set out, under 
cover of the fleet, for the invasion of Ireland ; but 
their terms would seem to imply that the Dutch 
plan was the far sounder one of striving to dispose 
of Duncan before allowing the troops to start. De 
Winter was instructed to destroy the enemy's fleet if 
possible ; carefully to avoid a battle " in the case of 
the enemy's forces being far superior to his own " : 
but at the same time to bear in mind " how frequently 
the Dutch Admirals had maintained the honour of 
the Dutch flag, even when the enemy's forces were 
sometimes superior to theirs"; and "in the case of 
an approaching engagement, as far as circumstances 
permit, to try and draw the enemy as near to the 
harbours of the Republic as will be found possible in 
conformity with the rules of prudence and strategy." 
On October 5 he was ordered to put to sea " as 
soon as the wind should be favourable," and to act in 
accordance with these instructions. 

Admiral Colomb held that the battle of Camperdown 
was "wasteful of naval force, and unmeaning as to 
any possible advantage to be gained. The Dutch fleet 
had landed all the troops and abandoned the idea 
of invasion, so that when it was determined to put 
to sea in the face of a known superior fleet of British 
ships, the enterprise was objectless." The fact of 
the troops having been landed can hardly be held 


to have militated against the success of De Winter's 
enterprise, since it is difficult to see how the presence 
of troops either on board or under the wing of the 
fighting force could in any way have added to its 
naval strength. So long as Duncan was, in Elizabethan 
phrase, " on the jacks " of De Winter the latter could 
do nothing, with or without troops, until he had 
disposed of his adversary. This was what he was 
sent out to do. He was instructed to " try and cause 
as much damage to the enemy as possible," to fight 
him if he found him not so superior in strength as 
to destroy all hope of victory, but in the opposite 
alternative " carefully to avoid a battle." These in- 
structions were, in my judgment, well conceived. 
They were foiled, not by Duncan's superior force, 
for on the day of battle the two fleets were approxi- 
mately equal, but by his superior energy and his 
brilliant tactical intuition. The issue was by no 
means fore-ordained. The forces were equal and the 
Dutch enjoyed the advantage of position which had 
been contemplated in De Winter's instructions. The 
object to be attained, the " possible advantage to be 
gained," was the destruction of the fleet which for 
months had paralysed all his undertakings. Could 
he have compassed that end it might have been 
cheaply purchased by almost any sacrifice of naval 
force which left him master of the field. In war, as 
in love — 

He either fears his fate too much, 

Or his desert is small, 
Who dares not put it to the touch 

And win or lose it all. 

But it was not to be. The long conflict between the 
Dutch and the English at sea was destined to end 
at Camperdown in the final overthrow of the Dutch. 
De Winter put to sea on October 7. Duncan with 
the main body of his fleet was still at Yarmouth. But 
some of his ships were on the watch, and by 
the morning of the 9th he was informed that the 


Dutch fleet was at sea. At n a.m. on that day he 
wrote to the Admiralty : " The squadron under my 
command are unmoored, and I shall put to sea 
immediately." The next day he was off the Texel 
with eleven ships of the line, and found that De 
Winter had not returned. What followed is best told 
in his own words : 

At Nine o'clock in the Morning of the nth I 
got Sight of Captain Trollope's Squadron, with 
Signals flying for an Enemy to Leeward ; I immedi- 
ately bore up, and made the Signal for a general 
Chace, and so got Sight of them, forming in a Line 
on the Larboard Tack to receive us, the wind at N.W. 
As we approached near I made the Signal for the 
Squadron to shorten sail, in order to connect them ; 
soon after I saw the land between Camperdown and 
Egmont, about Nine Miles to Leeward of the Enemy, 
and finding there was no Time to be lost in making 
the Attack, I made the Signal to bear up, break the 
Enemy's Line, and engage them to Leeward, each 
Ship her Opponent, by which I got between them 
and the Land, whither they were fast approaching. 
My Signals were obeyed with great Promptitude, and 
Vice-Admiral Onslow, in the Monarch, bore down on 
the Enemy's Rear in the most gallant Manner, his 
Division following his Example ; and the Action com- 
menced about Forty Minutes past Twelve o'Clock. 
The Venerable soon got through the Enemy's Line, 
and I began a close action, with my Division on their 
Van, which lasted near Two Hours and a Half, when I 
observed all the Masts of the Dutch Admiral's Ship to 
go by the Board ; she was, however, defended for 
some Time in a most gallant Manner ; but being over- 
pressed by Numbers, her Colours were struck, and 
Admiral De Winter was soon brought on Board the 
Venerable. On looking around me I observed the Ship 
bearing the Vice-Admiral's Flag was also dismasted, 
and had surrendered to Vice-Admiral Onslow ; and 
that many others had likewise struck. Finding we 
were in Nine Fathoms Water, and not farther than Five 
Miles from the Land, my Attention was so much taken 
up in getting the Heads of the disabled Ships off Shore, 
that I was not able to distinguish the Number of 



Ships captured ; and the Wind having been constantly 
on the Land since, we have unavoidably been much 
dispersed, so that I have not been able to gain an 
exact Account of them, but we have taken Possession 
of Eight or Nine ; more of them had struck, but taking 
Advantage of the Night, and being so near their own 
Coast, they succeeded in getting off, and some of them 
were seen going into the Texel the next Morning.' 

Trollope's squadron, together with other reinforce- 
ments which joined before the action, brought the two 
fleets to an equality ; but De Winter still had, on the 
whole, the advantage of position. He was nearing his 
port and drawing fast inshore, so that any attempt of 
Duncan to get between him and the land must prove 
a very hazardous undertaking. To do him justice he 
made no attempt to escape, but leisurely forming his 
line as soon as Duncan was sighted, he ordered his 
ships to square their mainyards and awaited the 
enemy's onslaught. Duncan's ships, on the other 
hand, were in a very loose and scattered formation, 
caused by his bold but judicious order for a general 
chase at an early stage of the proceedings. A general 
chase signifies that the ships of a squadron no longer 
preserve their appointed stations but proceed in- 
dividually to the attack or pursuit of the enemy, the 
fastest sailers going to the front. It is a very 
hazardous proceeding, because it exposes the assailant 
to the risk of being overpowered in detail, but in 
certain circumstances it offers the only means of bring- 
ing a flying enemy to action, and for this reason its 
judicious employment is a sure criterion of the tactical 
capacity of an admiral who resorts to it. Duncan em- 
ployed it, but countermanded it as soon as he saw 
that De Winter was awaiting his onslaught. Then he 
14 made the signal for the squadron to shorten sail in 
order to connect them " — that is, to recover the order 
disturbed by the general chase. But while he was 
reforming his line with the evident intention of attack- 
ing in the orthodox fashion, " each ship," as he said in 


his signal, " to engage her opponent in the enemy's 
line," he saw that De Winter was gradually drawing 
closer and closer to the land, so that unless he acted 
promptly, and without waiting for his line to be 
accurately formed, he would lose the opportunity of 
getting inshore of the enemy and cutting off his re- 
treat by forcing him out to sea. Accordingly, as 
Sir John Laughton puts it, " without waiting for the 
ships astern to come up, without waiting to form line 
of battle, and with the fleet in very irregular order of 
sailing ... he made the signal to pass through the 
enemy's line and engage to leeward." Some of his 
captains were not a little perplexed by the rapid 
succession of apparently inconsistent signals. One of 
them threw the signal-book on the deck, and "ex- 
claimed in broad Scotch : ' D ,' &c. &c. ' Up wi' 

the hel-lem and gang into the middle o't' " This was 
exactly what Duncan meant and wanted. With such 
followers, a leader so bold, so prompt, and so 
sagacious might make certain of victory. De Winter 
afterwards acknowledged to Duncan himself that he 
was undone by his adversaries' finely calculated but 
wholly unconventional impetuosity. " Your not wait- 
ing to form line ruined me : if I had got nearer to the 
shore and you had attacked I should probably have 
drawn both fleets on it, and it would have been a 
victory to me, being on my own coast." 

The Dutch fought gallantly, but all in vain. 
Duncan's onslaught was irresistible, and its method 
was an inspiration which places him in the front rank 
of naval commanders. Had he waited to form his line 
with precision, De Winter might have given him the 
slip. Had he fought in the orthodox fashion, not yet 
abandoned in principle, though discarded with signal 
effect by Rodney at the battle of the Saints, he might 
have fought a brilliant action, but could hardly have 
achieved a decisive victory. De Winter, like Brueys 
at the Nile, never dreamt that his assailant would 
venture into the narrow and treacherous waters be- 

1 64 DUNCAN 

tween his own line and the land. Like Villeneuve at 
Trafalgar, he had a safe port under his lee, and, more 
fortunate than Villeneuve, he had a lee shore close at 
hand. Manifestly his purpose was to make a running 
fight of it, without surrendering either of these ad- 
vantages. The only way to defeat this purpose was 
to break through his line and to attack him from to 
leeward. There was no time to be lost, and at best 
the operation was full of hazard, for at the close of 
the action the British ships were in nine fathoms of 
water, and not more than five miles from the shore. 
Even with ample sea room the operation would have 
been novel, opposed to the tradition of the service, 
disallowed by the prescription of the Fighting In- 
structions, and sanctioned by no recent precedent 
save that of Rodney at the Saints. In the actual 
conditions of wind, land, and soundings it was bold 
beyond example. But its boldness was reasoned and 
calculated, based on a clear grasp of the situation. 
The manifold disadvantages of the attack from to 
windward, especially when associated with the tradi- 
tional British respect for the formal line of battle, had 
been forcibly pointed out by John JClerk of Eldin, 
" that celebrated apple of naval discord," as Lord 
Camperdown aptly calls him. Duncan possessed a 
copy of Clerk's famous work, and to all appearance 
had studied it carefully. Yet the naval tradition was 
still so strong that, in spite of Clerk's teaching, it 
would seem that, had time permitted, he would have 
formed his line to windward and attacked in the 
orthodox fashion. But as soon as he saw that this 
might enable the enemy to escape he resolved at once 
to throw tradition to the winds and to attack in the 
only way that could make the action decisive. His 
intuition was as rapid, as 'unerring, and as triumphant 
as was that of Nelson a few months before at St. 
Vincent — a kindred stroke of genius, or a like touch 
of that ''inspired blindness which at the moment of 
decisive action sees not the risks but the one only 


road to possible victory." It is instructive to note and 
contrast the comments of Jervis on the two cases. 
Of the battle of St. Vincent and Nelson's share in it, 
I have already l told how Calder spoke of Nelson's 
wearing out of the line as an unauthorized departure 
from the method of attack prescribed by the admiral. 
" It certainly was so," replied Jervis, " and if ever you 
commit such a breach of your orders, I will forgive 
you also." But of Duncan's action and its method 
St. Vincent wrote, " Lord Duncan's action was fought 
pell-mell 2 (without plan or system) ; he was a gallant 
officer (but had no idea of tactics, and being soon 
puzzled by them), and attacked without attention to 
form or order, trusting that the brave example he set 
would achieve his object, which it did completely." 

Thus was the sure judgment of the quarter-deck 
superseded by the formalism of the desk. There is 
a touch of littleness about this criticism of Duncan by 
his old comrade-in-arms which contrasts painfully with 
the large generosity of the rebuke to Calder. Duncan's 
inattention to form and order was the calculated means 
to an end clearly perceived, instantly pursued, and 
triumphantly attained. It was not the puzzle-headed 
impetuosity of the captain who shouted, "Up wi' the 
hel-lem and gang into the middle o't ! " It was the 
sure insight and splendid intrepidity of a commander 
who sees the only way to victory and takes it at all 

Such a man was Duncan, and such was his one 
victory, and it ill becomes even a St. Vincent to belittle 
either. At any rate, those who were there held, with one 
accord, that the mode of attack adopted, confused and 
disorderly as it was, was the only one which offered 
any prospect of a decisive victory. Captain Hotham 
of the Adamant wrote : " There was no time for 

1 See p. 2,7- 

2 Even if Duncan's action was "fought pell-mell," that was, as we 
have seen, exactly the way in which Nelson, by his own avowal, 
intended to fight, and did fight, the battle of Trafalgar. 

1 66 DUNCAN 

tactique or manoeuvre : the day was advanced, the 
wind on shore, the water shoal ; and hence the charge 
against the Admiral of going down in some confusion 
on the enemy's fleet. Had he done anything else 
but what he did the day would not have been so 

The action was desperately fought on both sides. 
11 1 have assured Admiral De Winter, and with justice, 
nothing could exceed his gallantry," wrote Duncan of 
his vanquished foe. An officer of the flagship, in his 
evidence given at a court-martial which arose out of 
the action, stated that " from the time we beat the 
States General out of the line until Admiral De 
Winter's ship was dismasted, the Venerable had 
seldom less than two and sometimes three line of 
battle ships upon her, besides a Dutch frigate and a 
brig who fired as opportunity offered." The Ardent, 
whose captain was killed, had two ships of the 
enemy upon her at the beginning of the action, " and 
about 2 p.m. she had four line of battle ships and 
a frigate." " Our enemies," wrote De Winter, " re- 
spect us on account of the obstinacy of our defence. 
No action could have been so bloody." Story, an- 
other of the Dutch admirals, described the action as 
a one of the most obstinate engagements, perhaps, that 
ever took place on the ocean." 

The appearance of the British ships at the close of 
the action [says James] was very unlike what it gener- 
ally is, when the French or Spaniards have been the 
opponent of the former. Not a single lower mast, not 
even a top-mast was shot away ; nor were the rigging 
and sails of the ships in their usual tattered state. It 
was at the hulls of their adversaries that the Dutch- 
men had directed their shot ; and this, not until the 
former were so near that no aim could well miss. 

Eleven ships of the enemy surrendered to the 
victors, but of these two were lost at sea and a third 
was driven on shore and recaptured. The remainder, 
with the whole of Duncan's fleet, notwithstanding the 


serious damage the ships had sustained in their hulls, 
were brought safely into port, although for several 
days the wind continued to blow on to the Dutch 
coast, and the leeshore was only avoided with great 
difficulty. On October 15, Duncan, in the Vener- 
able, anchored off Orfordness, the ship "being so 
leaky that with all her pumps going we could just 
keep her free." On the same day he effectively, though 
quite undesignedly, disposed of St. Vincent's criticism 
beforehand in a letter to his kinsman, the Lord 
Advocate : 

We were obliged, from being so near the land, to be 
rather rash in our attack, by which we suffered more. 
Had we been ten leagues at sea none would have 
escaped. Many, I am sure, had surrendered, that got 
off in the night, being so near shore. We were much 
galled by their frigates where we could not act. In 
short, I feel perfectly satisfied. All was done that 
could be done. None have any fault to find. 

I have said that Hotham in the Mediterranean 
and Bridport in the Channel were charged with 
exactly the same duty as was imposed on Duncan in 
the North Sea. Perhaps the best way to appreciate 
the brilliancy of his performance is to compare it with 
theirs. Hotham might have anticipated the Nile. 
Bridport ought to have destroyed Villaret and saved 
Ireland from Hoche. Duncan waited more than two 
years for his opportunity, he never relaxed his grip 
even at the height of the mutiny, and when at last the 
enemy ventured to sea, he pounced upon him at once 
and destroyed him. Well might Lady Spencer write 
as she did a year later to St. Vincent after the battle of 
the Nile : 

I am sure it must be needless to attempt expressing 
to your Lordship my delight at the recollection of 
the last eighteen months. Lord Spencer's naval ad- 
ministration has witnessed during that period three 
victories, which, since naval records have been kept in 
this or any other country, are not to be equalled. 


Your magnificent achievement saved this Country ; 
Lord Duncan's saved Ireland ; and I must hope Lord 
Nelson's saves India. 

In that illustrious but not unmerited association 
I may well leave Duncan's name and fame to the 
tardy appreciation of his countrymen and of history. 
Nor can I part more impressively with a personality 
remarkable alike for nobility of presence and for 
splendour of achievement than by quoting a con- 
temporary account of Duncan's conversation and 
demeanour at a banquet given on the first anniversary 
of Camperdown to celebrate the victory of the Nile : 

I used the opportunity his affability afforded me, to 
inquire some particulars of his own state of feeling 
before and after the action. He said he went upon 
deck about six o'clock, having had as sound a night's 
rest as ever he enjoyed in the whole course of his 
life. The morning was brilliant, with a brisk gale ; 
and he added that he never remembered to have been 
exalted by so exhilarating a sensation as the sight of 
the two fleets afforded him. He said, however, that 
the cares of his duties were too onerous to allow him 
to think of himself; his whole mind was absorbed in 
observing and in meeting the occasion by orders ; all 
other feelings were lost in the necessity of action. 

The night after the battle he never closed his eyes — 
his thoughts were still tossing in the turmoil through 
which he had passed ; but his most constant reflection 
was a profound thankfulness to God for the event of 
the engagement. 

All this was said in so perfectly natural a tone, and 
with a manner so simple, that its truth was impressed 
at once, together with veneration for a man who could 
regard thus humbly an event in which much of human 
life had been sacrificed, so much of personal honour 
and so much of national glory and advantage at- 
tained. . . . 

When the moment arrived for the departure of Lord 
Duncan he rose slowly from his seat, drew himself up 
to his full height, and in a few simple words announced 
that he must take his leave. A dead silence ensued. 


He turned to the Russian admiral, and folding his 
vast arms round him, expressed his farewell in this 
solemn embrace. It was then that the voices of his 
companions in arms broke forth, and he was saluted 
with three such cheers, so hearty, so regular, so true, 
that they vibrated through every fibre of my frame. 
The venerable man bent his head upon his breast for a 
moment, and seemed deeply impressed: he then bowed 
low and majestically, tucked his triangular gold-laced 
hat under his huge arm, and walked gravely down the 
room to the door amid a silence so intense that his 
measured tread sounded like minute-drops. He stopped ; 
he turned ; he again reared himself to his noble height, 
took his hat from under his arm, waved it over his 
head, gave three loud, articulate, and distinct hurrahs 
in return for the former salutation, placed his hat upon 
his brow, and closed the door. It was the last time I 
ever beheld him, but the vision still remains with 



IN the United States Paul Jones is universally 
regarded as the father of the American Navy. 
His spirit still dominates the great Naval College at 
Annapolis. His remains were, in 1905, disinterred 
in Paris, transported to the sea amid the respectful 
homage of the French nation, embarked on board 
an American man-of-war with all the honours of the 
French Navy, and, having once more crossed the 
Atlantic, were solemnly reinterred with great pomp 
at Annapolis, the President of the United States 
himself pronouncing the funeral oration. In this 
country the estimate generally entertained of his 
character and achievements has been a very different 
one. In 1825 a writer of whom I shall have more 
to say presently spoke of him as follows : " Paul 
Jones is known as a rebel and a pirate. Five and 
twenty years have not elapsed since the nurses of 

1 I have to thank the publishers of Mr. Buell's Paul Jones for 
their permission, courteously accorded, to reproduce the portrait 
of Paul Jones which faces this page. It forms the frontispiece to Mr. 
Buell's second volume. It is the work of Charles Willson Peale and 
is stated by Mr. Buell to be one of the only two portraits of Jones 
which are known to have been painted from sittings. It was painted in 
America in 1787. A reproduction of the other portrait known to 
have been painted from sittings stands as a frontispiece to Mr. 
Buell's first volume. The original is a miniature painted in 1780 by 
a Dutch artist named Van der Huydt, and now preserved in the 
Hermitage at St. Petersburg. It is more attractive as a picture, 
perhaps, but as it bears very little resemblance to the portrait by 
Peale, here reproduced, I should infer that it is a less faithfu 
presentation of the man as he actually was. 


Reproduced by permission of Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons] 

From a painting bv Charles Willson Peale 

[To face /. 170 


Scotland hushed their crying infants by the whisper 
of his name, and chap-books are even now to be 
purchased in which he is depicted in all the plenitude 
of terrific glory, the rival of Blackbeard and the worthy 
successor of the Buccaneers." It was, moreover, not 
merely in Scotland, nor only at the beginning of the 
last century, that the name of Paul Jones was still 
potent in the nurseries. A friend of my own, born 
at Hull twenty years after the words just quoted 
were written, tells me that even in his childhood 
the name of the captor of the Serapis was still one 
to conjure with on the east coast of England. By 
the British Government of his day Paul Jones was, of 
course, denounced as a rebel, and his extradition as 
a pirate was demanded by its diplomatic representa- 
tive at the Hague. There is no greater living authority 
on naval biography than Sir John Knox Laughton. 
In the Dictionary of National Biography the professor 
cannot bring himself to describe Paul Jones as any- 
thing better than a "naval adventurer," and his final 
estimate of his character is exceedingly unfavourable. 
" Jones was a man of distinguished talent and 
originality, a thorough seaman, and of the most de- 
termined and tenacious courage. His faults were 
due to defective training. Excessive vanity and a 
desire for ' glory,' which was, as he wrote, ' infinite ' 
and recognised no obstacles, made him a traitor to 
his country, as it made him quarrelsome, mean, and 
selfish." This was written in 1892. In an earlier and 
fuller biographical essay, first published in 1878 and 
reprinted in 1887 in the professor's Studies in Naval 
History, the estimate is still more unfavourable : 
" His moral character may be summed up in one 
word — detestable. I do not here speak only of the 
damning fact that, without sense of injury on the 
one side or of affection on the other, but merely as 
a matter of vulgar self-interest, he waged war against 
his native country. ... I speak equally of his char- 
acter in its more personal relations. The same selfish 


vanity which made him a renegade made him a 
calculating liar, incapable of friendship or love. . . . 
Whenever his private actions can be examined, they 
must be pronounced to be discreditable ; and as to 
many others that appear to be so, there is no evidence 
in his favour, except his own unsubstantiated and 
worthless testimony." 

No evidence in his favour! Franklin loved him 
as a son ; and though Franklin may have been no 
saint, he did not consort with scoundrels. After 
Franklin's death his daughter wrote to this despic- 
able and unscrupulous adventurer, assuring him that 
almost the last utterances of the doctor were ex- 
pressions of unimpaired confidence in the integrity 
and of undiminished admiration for the courage of 
Paul 'Jones. Lafayette loved him as a brother. In 
a letter written in 1781, he said, " You so well 
know my affectionate sentiments and my very great 
regard for you that I need not add anything on 
that subject." The rugged Suwaroff addressed him 
as " my good brother." In England he was re- 
spected and entertained by Lord Shelburne, by 
Fox, by Horace Walpole, and by Sheridan. He 
won and retained the friendship of Pearson, whom 
he had vanquished in the Serapis. He was the 
honoured guest of Lord Barham when the latter 
was Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth, and there 
he met many of the young officers who were after- 
wards to share the glories of Nelson and his com- 
rades in arms — men such as Troubridge, Foley, Ball, 
Hood, Harvey, Saumarez, and others. Louis Philippe 
wrote of him : " One of my proudest memories is that, 
when a little boy, I enjoyed the society of that 
wonderful man, to promote whose success was my 
mother's most ardent ambition." The parents of 
Louis Philippe, the Due and Duchesse de Chartres, 
were his earliest and staunchest friends in France. 
Louis XVI. decorated him, and treated him with high 
confidence and respect. He was the darling of that 


monarch's proud and fastidious Court. He was held 
in high respect by Washington, Jefferson, Madison, 
Morris, and other leaders of the American Revolution. 
When his conduct in France and his charges against 
Arthur Lee were investigated by Congress in 1781, 
that assembly unanimously resolved " that the thanks 
of the United States, in Congress assembled, be given 
to Captain Paul Jones for the zeal, prudence, and 
intrepidity with which he has supported the honour 
of the American flag ; for his bold and successful 
enterprises to redeem from captivity the citizens of 
these States who had fallen under the power of the 
enemy ; and in general, for the good conduct and 
eminent services by which he has added lustre to 
his character and to the American arms." When 
this resolution was reported to Washington, he 
wrote to Paul Jones a highly complimentary letter 
expressing his concurrence, and concluding with his 
11 sincere wish " that he might long enjoy the reputa- 
tion he had so justly acquired. All this, to which 
much more might be added, must surely be taken 
as at least prima facie evidence that Jones's personal 
character was by no means regarded as " detestable " 
by some of the most eminent and distinguished of 
his contemporaries. I am not concerned to present 
Paul Jones as a paragon of all the virtues. His 
vanity was excessive, his self-esteem was inordinate, 
some of his actions were questionable, and much of 
what he wrote about them is turgid, bombastic, and 
even ridiculous. But I have found little or nothing 
in the story of his life to sustain the scathing de- 
preciation of Sir John Laughton, nor can I pay so 
poor a compliment to the perspicacity and good faith 
of those who loved, respected, and honoured him in 
his lifetime as to believe either that they were one 
and all deceived, or that they gave their outward 
confidence and esteem to a man whom they knew to 
be of no moral worth at all. 
11 His faults," says Sir John Laughton, " were due 


to defective training." In this judgment I concur. 
But I cannot reconcile it with the rest of the professor's 
estimate. Defective training, associated with a native 
habit of self-assertion, with a vanity never corrected 
in early years by contact with good society, may 
explain and excuse many errors of taste, manners, and 
expression. But it cannot account for sustained moral 
obliquity such as renders a man's character detestable 
and turns him into "a calculating liar, incapable of 
friendship or love." A double dose of original sin is 
required for such a development as that. And the 
paradox of it all is that those who knew Paul Jones 
best never detected or suspected in him these abysmal 
profundities of wickedness. But without pursuing 
this question further at present, I will try to show 
what manner of man Paul Jones really was ; what his 
origin, circumstances, and early training were ; how he 
rose far above them by sheer force of character and 
will ; how in genius for naval warfare and in sure 
grasp of the essential conditions of its successful 
conduct he transcended nearly all his contemporaries, 
and might, had his opportunities been worthy of his 
conceptions, have taken high rank among the great 
sea-captains of all time. It is from this point of view 
that his title to be regarded as the father of the 
American Navy is at once unimpeachable and fraught 
with the loftiest and most enduring inspiration. 


John Paul, to give him his true patronymic, was of 
Scottish birth and origin. His father was gardener, 
fisherman, and perhaps factor to a laird who lived at 
Arbigland, a seaside hamlet of the parish of Kirkbean 
in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Here John Paul 
was born in 1747, the youngest of five sons, and here 
he spent his childhood, being educated at the parish 
school, and early taking to the sea in the fishing-boats 
of his native hamlet. At the age of twelve he was 


bound apprentice to a shipowner of Whitehaven, and 
embarked on his first! voyage in the brig Friendship, 
bound for Virginia. Thither his eldest brother, 
William Paul, had already migrated, and, having 
married the daughter of a planter named William 
Jones, had assumed the name of his father-in-law and 
undertaken the management of his business. John 
Paul first saw his elder brother, his senior by many 
years, when the Friendship anchored in the Rappa- 
hannock at no great distance from the landing stage 
of William Jones's plantation. William Jones was 
then alive, and desired to adopt John Paul as he had 
previously adopted his elder brother. But John was 
still wedded to the sea and stuck to his ship, returning 
in her to Whitehaven early in 1760. He appears to 
have remained in the service of his original employer 
for several years, making a succession of voyages and 
rapidly rising to the positions of second and first mate. 
In 1766 he took service as first mate in a ship trading 
to the West Indies, and obtained a sixth share in her 
ownership. In this ship he subsequently engaged 
with her captain, who was also part owner, in the 
slave trade, making at least two voyages between the 
African Coast and the West Indies. But at the end 
of the second voyage he sold his share in the ship to 
her captain, and quitting her in Jamaica he took 
passage home in a brig bound for Whitehaven. In 
this brig the captain, mate, and all but five of the 
crew died of yellow fever during the voyage, and Paul, 
with the survivors, brought the vessel safely into port. 
She was owned by the principal shipowners of White- 
haven, and as a reward for his services they gave him 
the command of one of their newest and finest ships, 
in which he made three more voyages to the West 
Indies and the American coasts, visiting his brother 
William on two occasions. In the course of these 
voyages he established business relations on his own 
account with a firm in Tobago, but to judge from a 
letter written by him some years later, these relations 


brought him little advantage and much trouble and 
embarrassment. During one of these voyages the 
crew, having been reduced by fever to five or six 
hands, one of the survivors — a powerful mulatto 
named Maxwell — became mutinous, and Paul, being at 
the time the only officer able to keep the deck, struck 
Maxwell with a belaying pin. Maxwell died shortly 
after the ship reached Tobago, and Paul at once 
reported the circumstances to the authorities and 
demanded L an immediate trial. He was acquitted in 
the Colonial Court, the sentence being confirmed by 
the Governor of Tobago ; but on his return to White- 
haven he was again placed on his trial for murder on 
the high seas. He was again acquitted, and so little 
did his trial injure his character with his owners — who 
bore the now historic name of Donald Currie, Beck 
& Co. — that they forthwith gave him the command 
of a new ship, the Grantully Castle — another historic 
name — the largest vessel then tradingfrom Whitehaven. 
Originally destined for the West Indian trade, like the 
other ships in which he had served, the Grantully 
Castle was taken up as a transport by the East India 
Company, and sailed for her eastern destination in 
1 77 1. Returning from this voyage in 1772, Paul again 
took the command of a vessel, once more bound for 
the West Indian and American ports. This proved 
to be his last mercantile voyage, for on arriving in the 
Rappahannock in April 1773, he found his brother 
William at the point of death, and himself the next 
heir to the whole of the property which William Jones 
had bequeathed to his brother in 1760. It has been 
stated that at one period during his early career Paul 
had engaged for a year or two in the smuggling trade 
between the Isle of Man and the Solway Firth. 
The foregoing record of his almost continuous employ- 
ment at sea from 1759 to 1773 would seem to disallow 
this story ; but if it were true, it would argue little or 
no discredit according to the ethical standard of the 
time. He was certainly engaged for a time in the 


slave trade, and probably no one in those days 
thought any the worse of him for it. In like manner 
no one was likely to think any the worse of him for 
having been a smuggler. 

So far there is little or nothing to show that the 
career of John Paul differed in any essential respect 
from that of many a master-mariner of his time. Had 
he never been heard of again after he settled in 
Virginia he would have seemed to be no more than 
a man of energy, resource, and determination, of 
undaunted courage, of wide 1 maritime experience, and 
of consummate nautical skill, who, having risen early 
by his merits to independent command, was never- 
theless content to settle down at the age of six and 
twenty to a modest Colonial competence almost 
fortuitously bequeathed to him. That would probably 
have been his obscure history and his undistinguished 
fate had George III. been less obstinate and his 
Ministers wiser men. But Dis aliter visum. With 
John Paul's arrival in the Rappahannock in the spring 
of 1773 the scene changes altogether, and with it the 
character and even the name of the actor. Much 
speculation has been wasted on the reasons for his 
change of name. There is, however, no sort of 
mystery about it. His elder brother William had 
already assumed the surname of his father-in-law, 
William Jones, when John Paul saw him for the first 
time in 1759. Even then the old man wanted to adopt 
the younger brother, and offered to provide for him. 
But John Paul preferred the sea, and apparently never 
saw William Jones again. For the latter died in 1760, 
and by his will he gave John Paul the reversion of the 
estate he had bequeathed to the elder brother in 
the event of the latter dying without issue. He had 
also made it a condition of the bequest that John Paul 
should follow his brother's example and take the 
name of Jones in his turn. During one of his visits 
to his brother, in 1769, John Paul recorded in due legal 
form his assent to the provisions of the will of William 



Jones, and thus automatically acquired the surname 
of Jones on the death of his brother without issue 
in 1773. 

Henceforth, then, until he took service in the new 
American Navy, we have to deal not with John Paul, 
master-mariner, of Scottish origin and British nation- 
ality, but with John Paul Jones, Esq., planter, of 
Virginia. On the death of his brother, which occurred 
within a few hours of his arrival in the Rappahannock, 
he turned over the command of his ship to his first mate 
and settled on the estate which had now become his 
own. It was a small estate as Colonial plantations 
were then measured, consisting of about three thousand 
acres, with the usual equipments and buildings and 
the usual complement of negro slaves. Jones was not 
ill fitted to enjoy and adorn the society in which he 
now found himself— the society so graphically depicted 
in the opening chapters of Thackeray's Virginians. 
His early education had only been that of a Scottish 
parish school, which he quitted at the age of twelve. 
But the scanty leisure of his fourteen years of sea- 
faring life was sedulously employed in supplying 
the deficiencies of his training at school. He was 
eminently social in his tastes, but select in the society 
he frequented. Mariner, skipper, slaver, trader, 
perhaps smuggler, he devoted himself steadily all 
through his Wanderjahre to the cultivation of his 
mind, the extension of his knowledge, and the refine- 
ment of his manners. All this is perhaps rather 
matter of inference than of direct knowledge, but 
the inference is confirmed by the fact that when he 
settled in Virginia he had already made many friends 
among the leading men of the American Colonies, from 
New York to Charleston ; had made himself master 
of French and acquired a passable knowledge of 
Spanish ; had studied public affairs with keen in- 
telligence and insight ; had learnt to express himself 
on general topics with propriety, vigour, and point ; 
and had thought more deeply and more profitably 


than most naval officers of his time on the organisation 
of navies and the principles of naval warfare. This 
is a truly marvellous achievement for a man of his 
years, training, and opportunities, but his subsequent 
history shows that the picture I have drawn is in 
no sense exaggerated. It may be that the finishing 
touch to these varied accomplishments was given 
during the two years he spent in Virginia of which 
little or no record is preserved. He gave little 
attention to the affairs of his plantation, leaving them, 
as he had found them, in the hands of the faithful and 
capable Scottish steward who, with his master, 
William Paul Jones, had served in Braddock's ill- 
fated expedition and survived its disastrous rout. 
This enabled him to enjoy such leisure and such 
social and intellectual converse as life in Virginia 
then afforded. But books and their study were not 
greatly to the taste of Virginian planters in those days 
— Washington himself was probably a rare exception — 
and it is likely enough that Paul Jones sported and 
idled with the rest. It is true that he afterwards 
told Lady Selkirk in a famous letter that he had 
11 withdrawn from the sea-service in favour of ' calm 
contemplation and poetic ease.'" But the facts and 
dates seem to show that Paul Jones owed the greater 
part of his intellectual culture to the solitude of a 
merchantman's cabin and not to the more stirring and 
distracting atmosphere of a plantation in tidewater 

His espousal of the American side in the great 
conflict which gave birth to the United States, needs, 
in my judgment, neither apology nor defence. His 
adoption of a seafaring life at a very tender age must 
have cut him adrift from the political passions and 
even weakened his sympathy with the patriotic senti- 
ments of his native land. During the years of his 
maritime wanderings he must have seen quite as much 
of Virginia and the American seaboard as he ever did 
of the shores of Great Britain. From 1769 onwards 


he must have regarded his brother's estate in Virginia 
as his own future home, and, knowing America as he 
did and its bitter resentment at the passing of the 
Stamp Act in 1765, it is hardly possible that, when 
he elected to settle in Virginia in 1773, he had not 
already taken the side on which were found many 
of the most upright and honourable of the subjects 
of the British Crown, both British and Colonial born. 
To say that he took it "without sense of injury on 
the one side or of affection on the other, but merely as 
a matter of vulgar self-interest," is, in my judgment, 
to go far beyond all warrant of the facts, and to deny 
to Paul Jones even the criminal's benefit of the doubt. 
His friends were among the leaders of the American 
Revolution. He settled in Virginia only a few 
months before the " Boston Tea Party," and little more 
than a year before the assembling of the first Congress 
at Philadelphia. In those days it was hardly possible 
for any man living in the American Colonies not to 
take one side or the other. It needed no sense of 
personal injury on the one hand, and very little of 
local affection on the other, to compel any and every 
man who thought for himself to decide once for all 
on which side his sympathies lay. If self-interest was 
the motive, it must have rested on an extremely 
hazardous calculation of chances, for the prospects of 
distinction or even of employment in an American 
Navy, still to be created, must have seemed extremely 
remote to any man who knew as Paul Jones did the 
overwhelming might of England on the seas. If 
Washington, who had fought under the British flag, 
could take up arms against it, if three of his major- 
generals were men of British origin and birth and had 
served in the British Army, if Chatham, who had con- 
quered Canada, would not allow his son to unsheath 
his sword for the coercion of the American Colonies, 
why should it be denied to Paul Jones to share the 
sympathies of men such as these ? To call him a 
rebel is altogether beside the point. They were all 


rebels in one sense, and all patriots in another. To 
call him a traitor is absurd. As Captain Mahan 
pithily puts it, " If Paul Jones be a traitor, what 
epithet is left for Benedict Arnold ? " It is true that 
in his more expansive and bombastic moments he 
disavowed all narrow and exclusive patriotism. 
" Though I have drawn my sword in the present 
generous struggle for the rights of men," he wrote to 
Lady Selkirk, " yet I am not in arms as an American. 
I profess myself a citizen of the world, totally un- 
fettered by the little mean distinctions which diminish 
the benevolence of the heart and set bounds to philan- 
thropy." He subsequently used the same language to 
the French Minister of Marine. But this is merely the 
philosophic jargon of the eighteenth century. All it 
means is that, since he could not be neutral in the 
conflict, Paul Jones had espoused the cause which he 
deemed to be that of liberty, justice, and humanity. 
History has at any rate decisively ratified his choice. 

" On the library wall of one of the most famous 
writers of America, there hang two crossed swords, 
which his relatives wore in the great War of In- 
dependence. The one was gallantly worn in the 
service of the King, the other was the weapon of 
a brave and honoured Republican soldier." So writes 
Thackeray in the opening chapter of the Virginians. 
The apologue serves to explain the attitude of Paul 
Jones towards the American conflict. Virginia was 
divided in sentiment. The planters were mainly 
Tories and Royalists, yet Washington himself was a 
Virginian planter. Paul Jones followed Washington. 
The two years between 1773 and 1775 were apparently 
spent by him for the most part in the study and 
observation of public affairs. Yet his sympathies 
were never disguised. He openly sought the society 
of the leaders of what was then known as the 
Continental party. By the end of 1774 it was plain 
that the issue between the American Colonies and the 
Crown could only be decided by force, and every man 


in America was compelled to make his choice for 
one side or the other. The choice of Paul Jones was 
already made. Early in 1775, Philip Livingstone of 
New York visited Virginia for the purpose of con- 
ferring with Washington and the other leaders of 
the Continental party in that State. Jones was 
present at many of these conferences, a sufficient 
proof that he already enjoyed the confidence of the 
Continental leaders. In one of his journals, written 
in 1782, he says : 

Mr. Livingstone had recently been at Boston, and 
his reports of conferences he had with the Adamses, 
Mr. Otis, Dr. Warren, and others, were of the utmost 
gravity. . . . Colonel Washington, Mr. Jefferson, and 
in fact all the Virginians of note, agreed that whatever 
the Boston people might do, or whenever they should 
act, they must be sustained at all hazards. I availed 
myself of these occasions to assure Colonel Washing- 
ton, Mr. Jefferson, and all the others, that my services 
would be at the disposal of the Colonies whenever 
their cause should require service on my own element, 
which would, of course, be coincident with the out- 
break of regular hostilities on the land. 

It was not to grave and serious men such as these 
that Paul Jones appeared to be a traitor, a renegade, 
or a mere self-seeking adventurer. 


Events were now to move rapidly. The battle of 
Lexington was fought on April 19, 1775, and that of 
Bunker's Hill on June 17. Jones was in New York 
when he heard of the former, and at once wrote to his 
friends to renew the offer of his services, inviting the 
Congress to call upon him " in any capacity which 
your knowledge of my seafaring capacities and 
your opinion of my qualifications may dictate." The 
Congress met for its second session on May 10. On 
June 14 it appointed a Naval Committee to " consider, 


inquire, and report with respect to the organisation 
of a naval force." On June 24 this Committee author- 
ised its chairman, Robert Morris, " to invite John Paul 
Jones, Esquire, gent., of Virginia, Master-Mariner, 
to lay before the Committee such information and 
advice as may seem to him useful in assisting the said 
Committee to discharge its labours." Jones had by 
this time returned to his plantation, where he had 
cordially entertained the officers of two French frigates 
which had put into Hampton Roads under the com- 
mand of Commodore de Kersaint, with the Due de 
Chartres as his second-in-command. This was the 
beginning of a close friendship with these two famous 
Frenchmen, which ended only with Jones's life, and 
exercised no slight influence on his career. It was 
largely the goodwill of the Due de Chartres which 
secured for Paul Jones his footing in French society, 
and largely the fortune of the Duchesse which enabled 
him to prosecute many of his undertakings. On 
receipt of the invitation of the Committee above quoted, 
Jones at once repaired to Philadelphia and placed 
himself at the disposal of the Congress. The first 
task entrusted to him was to serve on a Commission 
appointed " to survey and report upon the condition, 
availability, and the expediency of purchasing certain 
vessels then in the Delaware at the disposal of the 
Congress." At the same time he was invited to advise 
the Committee on two more general questions, namely 
" The proper qualifications of naval officers," and 
" The kind or kinds of armed vessels most desirable 
for the service of the United Colonies, keeping in 
view the limited resources of the Colonies." The 
work of the Commission, in which he at once took the 
leading part, absorbed all Jones's energies for many 
weeks, and it was not until the middle of September 
that he was able to lay before the Committee a deeply 
considered answer to the first of the more general 
questions addressed to him. This masterly document 
is still, if I may so call it, the moral and intellectual 


charter of Annapolis, and the sure and everlasting 
warrant of Jones's title to be called the Father of the 
American Navy. I need offer no apology for quoting 
it almost in full : 

As this is to be the foundation — or I may say the 
first keel-timber — of a new navy, which all patriots 
must hope shall become amongst the foremost in the 
world, it should be well begun in the selection of the 
first list of officers. You will pardon me, I know, if I 
say that I have enjoyed much opportunity during my 
sea-life to observe the duties and responsibilities that 
are put upon naval officers. 

It is by no means enough that an officer of the navy 
should be a capable mariner. He must be that, of 
course, but also', a great deal more. He should be as 
well a gentleman of liberal education, refined manners, 

Eunctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal 

He should not only be able to express himself 
clearly and with force in his own language both with 
tongue and pen, but he should also be versed in 
French and Spanish — for an American officer particu- 
larly the former — for our relations with France must 
necessarily soon become exceedingly close in view of 
the mutual hostility of the two countries toward 
Great Britain. 

The naval officer should be familiar with the prin- 
ciples of international law, and the general practice of 
admiralty jurisprudence, because such knowledge 
may often, when cruising at a distance from home, be 
necessary to protect his flag from insult or his crew 
from imposition or injury in foreign ports. 

He should also be conversant with the usages of 
diplomacy, and capable of maintaining, if called upon, 
a dignified and judicious diplomatic correspondence ; 
because it often happens that sudden emergencies in 
foreign waters make him the diplomatic as well as 
military representative of his country, and in such 
cases he may have to act without opportunity of con- 
sulting his civic or ministerial superiors at home, and 
such action may easily involve the portentous issue of 
peace or war between great powers. These are 
general qualifications, and the nearer the officer ap- 


E roaches the full possession of them the more likely 
e will be to serve his country well and win fame and 
honors for himself. 

Coming now to view the naval officer aboard ship 
and in relation to those under his command, he should 
be the soul of tact, patience, justice, firmness, and 
charity. No meritorious act of a subordinate should 
escape his attention or be left to pass without its 
reward, if even the reward be only one word of ap- 
proval. Conversely he should not be blind to a single 
fault in any subordinate, though, at the same time, he 
should be quick and unfailing to distinguish error 
from malice, thoughtlessness from incompetency, and 
well-meant shortcoming from heedless or stupid 
blunder. As he should be universal and impartial in 
his rewards and approval of merit, so should he be 
judicial and unbending in his punishment or reproof 
of misconduct. 

In his intercourse with subordinates he should ever 
maintain the attitude of the commander, but that need 
by no means prevent him from the amenities of cordi- 
ality or the cultivation of good cheer within proper 
limits. Every commanding officer should hold with 
his subordinates such relations as will make them 
constantly anxious to receive invitations to sit at his 
mess-table, and his bearing toward them should be 
such as to encourage them to express their feelings to 
him with freedom and to ask his views without 

It is always for the best interests of the service that 
a cordial interchange of sentiments and civilities 
should subsist between superior and subordinate 
officers aboard ship. Therefore it is the worst of 
policy in superiors to behave toward their subordi- 
nates with indiscriminate hauteur, as if the latter were of 
a lower species. Men of liberal minds, themselves 
accustomed to command, can ill brook being thus set 
at naught by others who, from temporary authority, 
may claim a monopoly of power and sense for the 
time being. If such men experience rude, ungentle 
treatment from their superiors, it will create such 
heart-burnings and resentments as are nowise con- 
sonant with that cheerful ardor and ambitious spirit 
that ought ever to be characteristic of officers of all 


grades. In one word, every commander should keep 
constantly before him the great truth, that to be well 
obeyed he must be perfectly esteemed. 

But it is not alone with subordinate officers that 
a commander has to deal. Behind them, and the 
foundation of all, is the crew. To his men the com- 
manding officer should be Prophet, Priest, and King! 
His authority when off shore being necessarily 
absolute, the crew should be as one man impressed 
that the Captain, like the Sovereign, " can do no 
wrong ! " 

This is the most delicate of all the commanding 
officer's obligations. No rule can be set for meeting 
it. It must ever be a question of tact and perception 
of human nature on the spot and to suit the occasion. 
If an officer fails in this, he cannot make up for such 
failure by severity, austerity, or cruelty. Use force 
and apply restraint or punishment as he may, he will 
always have a sullen crew and an unhappy ship. But 
force must be used sometimes for the ends of discipline. 
On such occasions the quality of the commander will 
be most sorely tried. . . . 

When a commander has, by tact, patience, justice, 
and firmness, each exercised in its proper turn, pro- 
duced such an impression upon those under his 
orders in a ship of war, he has only to await the 
appearance of his enemy's top-sails upon the horizon. 
He can never tell when that moment may come. But 
when it does come he may be sure of victory over an 
equal or somewhat superior force, or honorable 
defeat by one greatly superior. Or, in rare cases, 
sometimes justifiable, he may challenge the devotion 
of his followers to sink with him alongside the more 
powerful foe, and all go down together with the 
unstricken flag of their country still waving defiantly 
over them in their ocean sepulchre ! 

No such achievements are possible to an unhappy 
ship with a sullen crew. 

All these considerations pertain to the naval officer 
afloat. But part, and often an important part, of his 
career must be in port or on duty ashore. Here he 
must be of affable temper and a master of civilities. 
He must meet and mix with his inferiors of rank in 
society ashore, and on such occasions he must have 


tact to be easy and gracious with them, particularly 
when ladies are present ; at the same time without 
the least air of patronage or affected condescension, 
though constantly preserving the distinction of 
rank. . . . 

In old established navies like, for example, those of 
Britain and France, generations are bred and specially 
educated to the duties and responsibilities of officers. 
In land forces generals may and sometimes do rise 
from the ranks. But I have not yet heard of an 
Admiral coming aft from a forecastle. 

Even in the merchant service, master-mariners 
almost invariably start as cabin apprentices. In all 
my wide acquaintance with the merchant service I 
can now think of but three competent master-mariners 
who made their first appearance on board ship 
11 through the hawse-hole," as the saying is. 

A navy is essentially and necessarily autocratic. 
True as may be the political principles for which we 
are now contending, they can never be practically 
applied on board ship, out of port or off soundings. 
This may seem a hardship, but it is nevertheless the 
simplest of truths. Whilst the ships sent forth by 
the Congress may and must fight for the principles 
of human rights and republican freedom, the ships 
themselves must be ruled and commanded at sea 
under a system of absolute despotism. . . . 

It should be borne in mind that when this memorable 
State Paper was penned, Paul Jones had never served 
on board a man-of-war. His life, his education, and 
his experiences had only been such as I have in 
briefest outline described. Yet I venture to affirm 
that no naval officer then living — and few naval officers 
of any age — could have better defined the essential 
duties of a naval officer and the moral qualities 
which fit him to discharge those duties with loyalty, 
dignity, and distinction, than this master-mariner 
whom fortune had made by no seeking of his own 
a Virginia planter, and who, though born a British 
subject, like every other American " rebel," had 
espoused the cause which even in this country enlisted 
the sympathies of a Chatham, a Burke, and a Fox, and 


in America was not unworthy to be served by men 
such as Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, 
and many others whom he reckoned among his familiar 
friends. It was not men such as these that would 
admit a mere self-seeking adventurer to their intimacy. 
It was not to a man who knew so well what a naval 
officer ought to be and to do that the loyalty and 
devotion of comrades in arms who shared his own 
spirit was ever denied. It is true that he quarrelled 
with many of his associates and subordinates. But 
many of them were rogues, traitors, cowards, 
scoundrels, " scallywags." For these he had no use 
and with them he had no patience. With men of his 
own temper he lived, like Nelson, as with " a band 
of brothers." 

The report of Paul Jones was at once adopted by 
the Committee to which it was made, but not before 
it had been submitted by Hewes to Washington, 
who made the following comment on it : " Mr. Jones 
is clearly not only a master-mariner within the scope 
of the art of navigation, but he also holds a strong 
and profound sense of the military weight of command 
on the sea. His powers of usefulness are great, and 
must be constantly kept in view." But his powers 
of usefulness were not confined to the survey of ships 
suitable for the Continental navy and the preparation 
of the foregoing report. He reported also on the 
nature of the materiel required for such a navy 
and the best method of employing it. This report 
was presented to the Committee on October 3, 1775. 
It displays no less sure an insight into the true 
conditions and requirements of such a warfare on 
the seas as was open to the Continental forces than 
its predecessor did into the essential requirements 
of the personnel. For political, strategic, mechanical, 
and financial reasons, Paul Jones strongly and wisely 
deprecated the construction of ships of the line : 

Such vessels are too large and costly both in 
building and keeping in commission, and require 


too many men for our present resources. Their use 
is mainly strategical, for which purpose they must 
operate in fleets and squadrons, calculated to fight 
ranged battles, or to make extensive demonstrations, 
or to protect military expeditions over sea, or to 
overawe inferior powers. The posture of our affairs 
does not present such requirements. We cannot 
hope to contend with Britain for mastery of the sea 
on a grand scale. We cannot now for a long time 
hope for conditions admitting of such an attitude. 
As it is, only four powers are able to maintain fleets 
of the line capable of standing up in ranged battle. 
They are England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands, 
and their fleets are the growth of centuries. 

Moreover, America had no dockyards, no accumu- 
lation of seasoned timber of scantling suitable for 
capital ships, no money to build such ships, no guns 
wherewithal to arm them, and no means of obtaining 
such guns. On the other hand, Paul Jones would 
not " go to the other extreme and counsel the fitting 
out of small vessels able only to harass the enemy's 
commerce. That character of sea warfare may, I 
think, be left in the main to the enterprise or cupidity, 
or ;both, of private individuals or associations who 
will take out letters-of-marque or equip privateers." 
He knew well the vital importance of offensive 
warfare, even of such offensive warfare as alone can 
be conducted by a belligerent who does not seek 
" to contend for mastery of the sea on a grand scale." 
He will not peddle with coast defence, nor with any 
such restricted form of offence as is conducted in 
home waters by vessels having only a limited radius 
of action. He wants, at all hazards, to harry the 
enemy's coasts and attack his commerce in his own 
waters. For this purpose he desires frigates at least 
as large and as heavily armed as those then being 
employed by England and France, and as many as 
he can get — "at least six" carrying thirty-six twelve 
pounders. " I would not counsel smaller ones, such 
as twenty-eights or even thirty-twos ; because the drift 


of progress is to make frigates heavier all the time, 
and anything inferior to the twelve-pounder thirty-six 
gun frigate is now behind the times. On the other 
hand I would take a step further than the English and 
French have yet gone in frigate design. I would create 
a class of eighteen-pounder frigates to rate thirty-eight 
or forty guns. ... By this means we shall have a 
ship of frigate build and rate, but one-half again 
stronger than any other frigate now afloat. In 
addition to the six already proposed to carry twelve- 
pounders, it would be wise to provide for at least 
four of the new class of eighteen-pounder frigates 
I propose, and if possible six." There is a modern ring- 
about these remarks which may well suggest to the 
reflective reader that the conditions of naval warfare, 
and their expression in terms of materiel, vary rather 
in degree than in kind from age to age, and that the 
solution of the problems presented by them is essen- 
tially identical in all ages. Not less modern nor, I 
will add, less happily inspired, are the views of Paul 
Jones on the use to be made in warfare of the materiel 
he recommends : 

We should, at the earliest moment, have a squadron 
of four, five, or six frigates like the above — either 
or both classes — constantly in British waters, harbour- 
ing and refitting in the ports of France, which nation 
must, from self-interest alone, lean toward us from 
the start, and must sooner or later openly espouse our 

Keeping such a squadron in British waters, alarming 
their coasts, intercepting their trade, and descending 
now and then upon their least protected ports, is the 
only way that we, with our slender resources, can 
sensibly affect our enemy by sea-warfare. 

Rates of insurance will rise ; necessary supplies 
from abroad, particularly naval stores for the British 
dockyards, will be cut off; transports carrying troops 
and supply-ships bringing military stores for land 
operations against us will be captured ; and last, but 
not least, a considerable force of their ships and 


seamen will be kept watching or searching for our 

In planning and building our new frigates I would 
keep fast sailing, on all points, in view as a prime 
quality. But no officer of true spirit would conceive 
it his duty to use the speed of his ship in escape 
from an enemy of like or nearly like force. If I had 
an eighteen-pounder frigate of the class above de- 
scribed, I should not consider myself justified in 
showing her heels to a forty-four of the present time, 
or even to a fifty-gun ship built ten years ago. 

A sharp battle now and then, or the capture and 
carrying as prize into a French port of one or two 
of their crack frigates, would raise us more in the 
estimation of Europe, where we now most of all need 
countenance, than could the defeat or even capture 
of one of their armies on the land here in America. 
And at the same time it would fill all England with 
dismay. If we show to the world that we can beat 
them afloat with an equal force, ship to ship, it will 
be more than any one else has been able to do in 
modern times, and it will create a great and most 
desirable sentiment of respect and favour towards us 
on the Continent of Europe, where really, I think, 
the question of our fate must ultimately be determined. 

Beyond this, if by exceedingly desperate fighting, 
one of our ships shall conquer one of theirs of 
markedly superior force, we shall be hailed as the 
pioneers of a new power on the sea, with untold 
prospects of development, and the prestige, if not 
the substance of English dominion over the ocean, 
will be forever broken. Happy, indeed, will be the 
lot of the American captain upon whom fortune shall 
confer the honor of fighting that battle ! 

Thus, alike in personnel and in materiel, Paul Jones 
became the first author and only begetter of the 
American Navy — its father in every sense of the word. 
Nor was it long before he found employment in the 
great service he had thus created. In December 1775 
the Committee above mentioned recommended the 
appointment of five captains, five first lieutenants, 
and eleven second lieutenants, Paul Jones being 


placed not, as he might have expected, among the 
captains, but at the head of the list of lieutenants. 
He accepted the situation with dignity, but not 
without disappointment, and was nominated first 
lieutenant of the Alfred, one of the ships he had 
surveyed and recommended for purchase, under the 
command of Captain Dudley Saltonstall. He received 
his commission forthwith, and going on board the 
Alfred, with several members of the Committee, he, in 
the absence of Saltonstall, who had not yet reached 
Philadelphia, was directed by John Hancock, one of 
the Committee, to take command of the ship and break 
her pendant. This was the " Pine Tree and Rattle- 
snake " emblem, with the motto " Don't tread on me," 
which was worn for a few months only by Continental 
ships in commission. It was afterwards replaced by 
the historic " Stars and Stripes," and this flag, too, 
Paul Jones had the honour of first hoisting when he 
took command of the Ranger. 


The first exploit of the new navy was no very 
glorious one. In February 1776 a squadron of four 
vessels, of which the Alfred was one, set forth under 
the command of Commodore Ezekiel Hopkins on an 
expedition against the Bahamas and British commerce 
in those waters. It returned early in April, having 
captured Fort Nassau in New Providence, and failed 
to capture a British sloop, the Glasgow, which made 
good its escape although assailed and chased by the 
whole squadron. The result was a series of courts- 
martial, official censures, and dismissals from the 
service, the Commodore being cashiered, and Salton- 
stall placed in retirement, which unhappily for his 
own fame, proved to be only temporary. That Jones 
himself incurred no blame is shown by the fact that 
barely a month after his return in the Alfred he was 
appointed to the command of the Providence, sloop-of- 


war, and sailed in her, in June, on a general cruise 
ranging from Bermuda to the Banks of Newfoundland. 
I need not record the incidents of this cruise, though 
they showed Paul Jones at his best as a seaman of 
consummate daring and infinite resource. On his 
return to port in the autumn he was promoted to the 
rank of captain, receiving his commission from the 
hands of Thomas Jefferson, and heard for the first 
time of the utter ravaging of his plantation in Virginia, 
at the close of the previous year, by Lord Dunmore, 
the British Governor of the Colony. Lord Dunmore 
had been driven from his residence in Virginia and 
taken refuge on board a British man-of-war. " There 
were," says Lecky, " no English soldiers in the 
province, but with the assistance of some British 
frigates, of some hundreds of loyalists who followed 
his fortunes, and of a few runaway negroes, he 
equipped a marine force which spread terror along the 
Virginian coast and kept up a harassing though 
almost useless predatory war. Two incidents in the 
struggle excited deep resentment throughout America. 
The first was a proclamation by which freedom was 
promised to all slaves who took arms against the 
rebels. The second was the burning of the important 
town of Norfolk, which had been occupied by the 
provincials, had fired on the King's ships, and had 
refused to supply them with provisions. It was 
impossible by such means to subdue the province." 

Jones was one of the principal sufferers by this 
ill-starred enterprise of Lord Dunmore's. His planta- 
tion was ruined, all his buildings burned to the ground, 
his wharf demolished, his live stock killed, and every 
one of his able-bodied slaves of both sexes carried 
off to Jamaica to be sold. But he did not repine or 
complain. " This is, of course, a part of the fortune 
of war," he wrote to his friend Hewes. " I accept the 
extreme animosity displayed by Lord Dunmore as 
a compliment to the sincerity of my attachment 
to the cause of liberty. His lordship is entitled to 



his own conception of civilized warfare. He and his 
know where I am and what I am doing. They can 
affect me only by ravage behind my back. I do not 
complain of that." But he did deplore the fate of his 
negroes, and he acknowledged that all his worldly 
resources were destroyed. " I have," as he said in 
the same letter, " no fortune left but my sword, and 
no prospect except of getting alongside the enemy." 
A few weeks later he was again at sea, this time 
in command of the Alfred, with the Providence in com- 
pany and under his command. The cruise lasted about 
a month. Jones returned to port with seven prizes, 
two of which were transports fully laden with clothing 
and other supplies for the King's troops. The loss 
of these supplies to the British forces was serious 
enough ; to the Continental forces, ill-equipped and 
impoverished as they were, the gain was incalculable. 
This cruise was the last of the services rendered 
by Paul Jones to the American cause in American 
waters. Henceforth he plays his part on the larger 
stage of European warfare and diplomacy. I have 
dealt in some detail with his early years and his early 
services to the cause of his choice, because it is this 
portion of his life, too often ignored or misunderstood 
by his English biographers, which has operated most 
to his discredit. For example, Sir John Laughton, 
writing in 1878, reads the story I have told in outline 
above in a widely different sense : 

I have been thus particular in tracing the early 
life of John Paul, because its detail, uninteresting in 
itself, appears to offer some explanation of both his 
character and his choice of a career. A peasant lad, 
who had been knocking about the world in small 
trading ships from the time he was twelve years old ; 
who had served during five or six years, as he was 
growing from boyhood into manhood, on board a 
slaver ; a Manx smuggler, a ruined merchant, possibly 
a fraudulent bankrupt, or too clever executor, is not 
the man whose path we should expect to find ham- 


pered by needless or even customary scruples. The 
world was his oyster, with his sword he would open 
it. He felt himself capable of achieving distinction, 
if only he had a field for his talents ; and he had 
seen enough to make him believe that in the war 
then breaking out, the revolutionary side would give 
him the greatest opportunities. To him country was 
an idle word, patriotism an unknown idea. Through 
life the one object of his worship and admiration was 

My readers must choose for themselves between 
this picture and that which I have drawn. I will, 
moreover, cite an independent witness to character 
in the writer whom I have already mentioned as 
having written a Life of Paul Jones, as early as 1825. 
This writer, I am assured by my friend Mr. John 
Murray, is no other than the illustrious Benjamin 
Disraeli, afterwards Earl of Beaconsfield, and Prime 
Minister of England. 1 He at any rate, whether from 
sympathy of temperament or from greater generosity 
of appreciation, saw Paul Jones and his career in a 
much kindlier light than has been common among 

1 The work is entitled The Life of Paul Jones, from Original 
Docmnents in the Possession of John Henry Sherburne, Esq., Register 
of the Navy of the United States. London, John Murray, Albemarle 
Street, MDCCCXXV. The present Mr. John Murray has very kindly 
allowed me to inspect and consult a copy of this work which has 
never passed out of the possession of his firm. He assures me 
that there is no doubt that it is substantially the work of Disraeli, 
who was at this period in the literary employ of his grandfather. 
Disraeli's name does not appear on the title-page any more than 
it does on another work published by John Murray in 1832, and 
entitled England and France; or a Cure for the Mi?iisterial 
Gallomania. But the records and traditions of the firm attest that 
both were Disraeli's handiwork, and that if he was not the actual 
writer of every line and every word, he was at any rate the super- 
intending and largely contributory editor. This attribution is con- 
firmed by abundant internal evidence of style and treatment. In a 
private letter to Mr. Murray the late Sir Spencer Walpole pro- 
nounced parts of the England and France volume to be " very 
dizzy-ish." My readers will judge for themselves of the extract 
here given. 


his countrymen ; and since the volume is now rare 
and little known, I need offer no apology for citing 
his final appreciation : 

That by law he was a pirate and a rebel, I shall 
not deny ; since by the same law Washington would 
have been drawn and quartered, and Franklin had 
already been denounced as " a hoary-headed traitor." 
But we have seen that nothing can be more erroneous 
than the prevalent history of his character and for- 
tunes. As to his moral conduct it would seem that 
few characters have been more subject to scrutiny 
and less to condemnation. His very faults were the 
consequences of feelings which possess our admira- 
tion, and his weaknesses were allied to a kindly 
nature. He was courageous, generous, and humane ; 
and he appears to have been the only one in this 
age of revolutions whose profession of philanthropy 
was not disgraced by his practice. As to his mental 
capacity, it cannot be denied that his was a most 
ardent and extraordinary genius. Born in the lowest 
rank of life, and deprived by his mode of existence 
from even the common education which every Scotch- 
man inherits, Paul Jones was an enthusiastic student, 
and succeeded in forming a style which cannot be 
sufficiently admired for its pure and strenuous elo- 
quence. His plans also were not the crude conceptions 
of a vigorous but untutored intellect, but the matured 
systems which could only have been generated by 
calm observation and patient study. His plan for 
attacking the coast of England was most successful 
in execution, though conceived on the banks of the 
Delaware ; and we cannot but perceive a schooled 
and philosophic intellect in his hints for the formation 
of the navy of a new nation. Accident had made him 
a republican, but the cold spirit of his republicanism 
had not tainted his chivalric soul, and his political 
principles were not the offspring of the specious 
theories of a dangerous age. There was nothing in 
the nature of his mind which would have prevented 
him from being the commander instead of the con- 
queror of the Serapis. He delighted in the pomp 
and circumstance of royalty, and we scarcely know 
when to deem him happiest — when the venerable 


Franklin congratulated him for having freed all his 
suffering countrymen from the dungeons of Great 
Britain, or when he received a golden-hilted sword 
from the " protector of the rights of human nature." 
Although he died in his forty-fifth year, his public 
life was not a short one, and by his exertions at the 
different Courts of Europe he mainly contributed to 
the success of the American cause. Now that the 
fever of party prejudice has subsided, England wishes 
not to withhold from him the tribute of her admiration. 
America, " the country of his fond election," must ever 
rank him not only among the firmest, but among 
the ablest of her patriots. 

In June 1777 Jones was appointed by Congress 
to command the Ranger, a new vessel of 308 tons, 
designed to carry an armament of twenty long six- 
pounder guns, which had just been launched from 
the navy yard at Portsmouth in New Hampshire. 
Jones fitted her out and reported her as ready for 
sea on October 15. But as her destination was to 
carry the war into the enemy's waters in accordance 
with the views which Jones had, as we have seen, 
already advanced, he was directed to wait for 
despatches of importance which Congress expected 
to be in a position to transmit to France in a few 
days. In other words, the surrender of Burgoyne 
at Saratoga was known to be imminent — it took place 
on October 17 — and Congress desired to employ the 
Ranger to carry the news to Europe and especially 
to France, whose friendship for the United States 
was shortly to ripen into an alliance. Jones received 
his despatches about midnight on October 31, and 
set sail at once, declaring that he would spread the 
news in France in thirty days. He did not quite 
fulfil his promise, but he landed at Nantes on 
December 2, and, posting forthwith to Paris, he placed 
the despatches in Franklin's hands on the morning 
of December 5. " On February 6, 1778," says Mr. 


A. C. Buell, Paul Jones's latest biographer, " the 
Treaty of Alliance that assured American Indepen- 
dence was signed and sealed at Versailles — just two 
months after the arrival of the news." 

It had been intended that on his arrival in France 
Jones should hand over the Ranger to Simpson, his 
second-in-command, and himself take command of a 
new frigate building at Amsterdam for the United 
States Government. But the British Government got 
wind of the transaction, an embargo was laid on the 
ship, and before Jones landed at Nantes, she had been 
sold by Franklin to the French Government. Jones 
therefore remained for a time in command of the 
Ranger, and, after refitting her at L'Orient, he put in 
at Brest, where the French Grand Fleet was lying 
under the command of D'Orvilliers. Here, on February 
14, 1 77 1, after some politic negotiation on Jones's part, 
the United States flag, which he had been the first to 
hoist on board the Ranger, received the first salute 
ever offered to it by a foreign naval power. Jones 
was detained at Brest for nearly two months, owing 
to differences of opinion among the American Com- 
missioners in Paris as to his ulterior destination. In 
the end the views of Franklin, who desired to keep 
Jones in European waters, prevailed, and at last, on 
April 10, the Ranger sailed to try her fortunes in 
British waters. Baffled by the weather Jones entered 
the Irish Channel from the southward, having originally 
intended to pass to the west of Ireland and enter it 
from the northward. It was well for him that he did 
so, for, before he left Brest, the British Government 
had got wind of his intentions and had promptly 
despatched from Plymouth a frigate and two sloops 
to look after him on the west coast of Ireland. They 
were detained at Falmouth by the same gale which 
kept him out of the Atlantic, and they never got on 
his tracks. Jones made straight for his native haunts ; 
and, learning that Whitehaven, the cradle of his 
maritime career, was then full of shipping, he resolved 


to make a descent on it, relying on his intimate know- 
ledge of the harbour and its approaches, and hoping 
to be able to destroy all the shipping assembled there. 
Delayed for some days by contrary winds, he at 
length got near to the port on the night of April 22, 
and made his attack. It was not successful in its 
attempt on the shipping, the attack having been made 
too late in the night, owing to the wind having 
dropped before he had got as near in as he desired, 
and at daybreak he was compelled to withdraw his 
small landing party after a sharp skirmish with the 
local militia. His own comment on this adventure 
is as follows : 

Its actual results were of little moment, for the 
intended destruction of shipping was limited to a 
single vessel. But the moral effect of it was very 
great, as it taught the English that the fancied security 
of their coasts was a myth, and thereby compelled 
their Government to take expensive measures for the 
defence of numerous ports hitherto relying for pro- 
tection wholly on the vigilance and supposed omni- 
potence of their navy. It also doubled or more the 
rates of insurance, which in the long run proved the 
most grievous damage of all. 

This is amply corroborated by Disraeli, who says : 

The descent at Whitehaven produced consternation 
all over the kingdom. Expresses were immediately 
despatched to all the capital seaports ; all strangers 
in Whitehaven were immediately ordered to be 
arrested ; similar directions were forwarded throughout 
the country. Look-out vessels were appointed at 
every port ; continual meetings were held all down 
the coast ; companies were raised by subscription ; 
and all forts and guns were immediately put into 

A nation which relies on sea power is peculiarly 
sensitive to alarms of this kind. Jones had discovered 
the secret of getting on its nerves. His next adventure 


was of a more equivocal character, though his own 
motives were generous and his subsequent action 
was even chivalrous after a certain florid fashion of 
his own. Paul Jones shared to the full the sentiments 
of all Americans and of not a few Englishmen 
concerning the harsh treatment by the English author- 
ities of American prisoners of war. By way of remedy 
for the evils complained of, he conceived the idea of 
seizing some Englishman of rank and repute and 
holding him as a hostage until the condition of the 
prisoners was ameliorated. The time and the place 
seemed favourable to his design. Baffled at White- 
haven, and yet having spread terror and consternation 
far and wide, he struck across to the Bay of Kirkcud- 
bright, and there anchored off St. Mary's Isle, the 
seat of the Earl of Selkirk. He desired by this prompt 
change of scene to spread the impression abroad that 
there was more than one American warship on the 
coast, but he had also another purpose in view. This, 
together with the proceedings which ensued, are 
perhaps best described in a very characteristic letter 
— bombastic or chivalrous according as we view it, 
and certainly highflown in any view of it — which he 
wrote to Lady Selkirk on the day of his return to 
Brest : 

Madam, — It cannot be too much lamented, that, in 
the profession of arms, the officer of fine feelings and 
real sensibility should be under the necessity of 
winking at any action of persons under his command, 
which his heart cannot approve, but the reflection is 
doubly severe, when he finds himself obliged in 
appearance to countenance such acts by his authority. 

This hard case was mine, when on the 23rd of April 
last, I landed on St. Mary's Isle. Knowing Lord Sel- 
kirk's influence with the King, and esteeming as I do his 
private character, I wished to make him the happy 
instrument of alleviating the horrors of hopeless 
captivity, when the brave are overpowered and made 
prisoners of war. It was perhaps fortunate for you, 
madam, that he was from home ; for it was my 


intention to have taken him on board the Ranger 

and to have detained him until, through his means, 

a general and fair exchange of prisoners, as well in 

Europe as in America, had been effected. When I 

was informed by some men whom I met at landing, 

that his lordship was absent, I walked back to my 

boat, determined to leave the island. By the way, 

however, some officers, who were with me, could not 

forbear expressing their discontent, observing that, in 

America, no delicacy was shown by the English, 

who took away all sorts of moveable property ; setting 

fire, not only to towns, but to the houses of the rich, 

without distinction, and not even sparing the wretched 

hamlets and milch-cows of the poor and helpless at 

the approach of an inclement winter. That party had 

been with me, the same morning, at Whitehaven ; some 

complaisance, therefore, was their due. I had but 

a moment to think how I might gratify them, and at 

the same time do your ladyship the least injury. I 

charged the two officers to permit none of the seamen 

to enter the house, or to hurt anything about it ; to 

treat you, madam, with the utmost respect ; to accept 

of the plate which was offered, and to come away 

without making a search, or demanding anything 

else. I am induced to believe that I was punctually 

obeyed. ... I have gratified my men ; and when the 

plate is sold, I shall become the purchaser, and will 

gratify my own feelings by restoring it to you, by 

such conveyance as you shall please to direct. 

The rest of the letter need not be quoted at length ; 
one or two sentences of it have been cited already. 
It contains a bombastic description of the action, 
shortly to be mentioned, between the Ranger and the 
Drake, and concludes with a rhetorical appeal to Lady 
Selkirk " to use your persuasive arts, with your 
husband's, to endeavour to stop this cruel and de- 
structive war in which Britain can never succeed." 
As to the plate, Jones redeemed his pledge, and it 
ultimately found its way, after many vicissitudes, 
back to St. Mary's Isle. It is said that Jones ex- 
pended some £140 out of his own pocket over the 


Before his descent on Whitehaven, Jones had 
attempted to surprise and capture the Drake, an ill- 
manned and ill-equipped sloop of war which was 
serving as guard-ship off Carrickfergus in Belfast 
Lough. He intended to anchor alongside and carry 
the Drake by boarding ; but owing to some mis- 
carriage with the anchor, the attempt failed and the 
Ranger stood out to sea. The morning after the raid 
on St. Mary's Isle, the Ranger was again cruising off 
Belfast Lough and, this time, the Drake was not slow 
to accept the challenge. Working out of the Lough 
against a contrary wind, she came within hail of the 
Ranger late in the .afternoon, and the action imme- 
diately began. In a little more than an hour the 
Drake was reduced to a wreck by the Ranger's fire 
at close range, her commanding officer was dead, her 
second-in-command was dying, and she hauled down 
her flag. It was not a very glorious victory in itself, 
for though the two ships were about equal in arma- 
ment, 1 the Drake was ill prepared for the fight ; and 
though she was very gallantly fought, she was 
overpowered by the superior gunnery of the Ranger. 
In the biography of Jones, contributed by Sir John 
Laughton to the Dictionary of National Biography, it 
is stated that " in reality the Drake was no match for 
the Ranger\ and at this time her crew was mainly 
composed of newly raised men without any officers 
except her captain and the registering lieutenant of the 
district, who came on board at the last moment as 
a volunteer. She had no gunner, no cartridges 

1 It was stated at the court-martial on the Drake's survivors that 
her twenty guns were only four-pounders. But the archives of the 
French Admiralty contain evidence that when she was sold as a 
prize at Brest, her battery was described as " seize pieces de neuf 
livres de balle et quatre pieces de quatre." This is corroborated by 
Jones's own account of the engagement. The Rangers armament, as 
altered by Jones while fitting her out, was fourteen long nine- 
pounders and four six-pounders. Her complement was 126 officers 
and men ; that of the Drake was, according to Jones, 157. But 
several of these were hastily drafted from the shore. 


filled, and no preparation for handing the powder.' 
Nevertheless, since she left her anchorage for the 
purpose of challenging and fighting the Ranger, it 
must be presumed that she was stationed there for 
fighting purposes. If she was too ill equipped to 
fight a ship of her own size and armament, she had no 
business to be there at all. It is remarked by Captain 
Mahan that the capital fault of the strategic policy 
of England during the War of American Independence 
was that she " tried to protect all parts of her 
scattered empire by dividing the fleet among them." 
On a small scale we have a significant illustration of 
this faulty distribution in the stationing of the Drake 
off Carrickfergus. The illustration is not without 
warning when the policy of " showing the flag" by 
scattering war-ships of little or no fighting value all 
over the world is still advocated by naval authorities 
of no mean repute. If — quod absit — we were ever to 
be at war with the United States again, of what 
use would it be to have stationed in the Western 
Atlantic a squadron so weak that it must abandon 
its station as soon as hostilities were imminent ? 
To " show the flag " in any quarter, by means of weak 
and practically non-combatant war-ships, is just as 
futile, and just as likely to lead to humiliation in the 
event of serious hostilities. 

For the capture of the Drake was a humiliation 
to British naval arms even if it was a foregone 
conclusion in the circumstances. It was the first 
blow — shortly to be followed by a still more morti- 
fying one — struck by the American Navy on this 
side of the Atlantic, and in what might well have 
been regarded as the least accessible of British waters. 
It was a proof that the views of Paul Jones concerning 
the best mode of conducting the war at sea were as 
sound as they were original. It showed that the 
British Navy was not invulnerable to skill and daring 
even in its own waters. It consolidated the alliance 
between France and the United States. Its direct 


effects, moreover, were not disproportionate to these 
its larger consequences. To quote Disraeli again, it 

a consternation in the minds of the inhabitants of 
the surrounding coasts quite unparalleled. The de- 
scent upon Whitehaven — the expedition to St. Mary's, 
and the boldness of its avowed object — the capture 
of the Drake followed with such rapidity, that the 
public mind was perfectly thunderstruck. Rumour 
increased the terror for which there was but good 
reason. The daily journals teemed hourly with cir- 
cumstantial accounts of strange seventy-fours seen 
in the Channel — of expeditions which were never 
planned — and destruction which never occurred ! In 
one night Paul Jones was in all parts of England, 
and his dreadful name was sufficient reason for 
surveys of fortifications, and subscriptions to build 
them. At Whitehaven they subscribed upwards of 
a thousand pounds, and engineers were immediately 
ordered down to take a survey of the harbour, in 
order to erect some works on the north side of it. 
Four companies were immediately ordered to White- 
haven, and a company of Gentleman Volunteers was 
also formed there. 

Jones forthwith repaired his own damages and 
patched up those of his prize, and as the alarm had 
now been thoroughly given and it was certain that 
a superior British force would very soon be on his 
tracks, he made the best of his way round the west 
coast of Ireland, making for Brest. He reached that 
port on May 8, and was received with every mark of 
honour by the naval authorities of the port. Shortly 
afterwards Jones turned over the Ranger to his 
second-in-command, and she was ordered back to the 
United States. Jones then spent several months in 
France, and mainly in Paris, endeavouring to obtain 
a more important command, either directly under 
the French Government, now allied with the United 
States, or, through its agency, under the flag of the 
United States. In these endeavours he experienced 


frequent disappointments. He was not generally 
popular in the French Navy, though he had many 
warm friends among its superior officers, and the 
French Ministry constantly deluded him with pro- 
mises which it had very little intention of fulfilling. 
But Jones was not to be baffled by official indifference. 
He had many friends at Court, among whom the most 
devoted were the Due and Duchesse de Chartres, 
especially the latter. Whatever may have been 
Jones's defects, moral and personal, in society he 
was irresistible— even in the fastidious and exclusive 
society of the ancien regime in France. This we have 
on the testimony of Franklin himself, who, in 1780, 
introduced Jones to the Comtesse d'Houdetot in the 
following terms : " No matter what the faults of 
Commodore Jones may be ... I must confess to your 
ladyship that when face to face with him no man, 
nor, so far as I can learn, woman, can for a moment 
resist the strange magnetism of his presence, the 
indescribable charm of his manner ; a commingling 
of the most compliant deference with the most perfect 
self-esteem I have ever seen in a man ; and above all, 
the sweetness of his voice and the purity of his 
language." A man so gifted could afford to smile at 
official indifference and knew how to counteract it. 
On the suggestion of the Due de Chartres he drafted 
a letter to the King of France, bespeaking his coun- 
tenance and assistance. This draft he submitted to 
Franklin, who returned it without comment or sanction, 
and, in fact, disclaimed all official responsibility, though 
he did not forbid Jones to present the letter nor in 
any way seek to persuade him not to present it. The 
letter was presented to the King by the Duchesse de 
Chartres early in December, and on December 17, 
Jones was received in audience. The result was 
that de Sartine, the French Minister of Marine, who 
had hitherto baffled all Jones's attempts to obtain 
employment afloat, wrote to Jones on February 4, 
1779, to tell him that " His Majesty has thought 


proper to place under your command the ship 
Le Duras, of forty guns, now lying at L'Orient." 
The ship was to be armed and fitted out at the cost 
of the French Government, and Jones was authorized 
to enlist French volunteers for her crew should he 
find it impossible to obtain American subjects in 
sufficient numbers to complete her complement. The 
Duchesse de Chartres, whose private fortune was im- 
mense, now again showed her friendship for Jones 
by insisting on placing a sum of 10,000 louis — not 
far short of equivalent to the same number of pounds 
sterling — to his credit. Jones accepted it reluctantly, 
and resolved to regard it as a loan. But when, some 
years later, his circumstances would have enabled 
him to repay the loan, he asked the Due d'Orleans, 
as the Due de Chartres had then become, if the 
Duchesse would allow him to do so, the Due replied, 
" Not unless you wish her to dismiss you from her 
esteem and banish you from her salon. She did not 
lend it to you ; she gave it to the cause." 

The Duras was a worn-out East Indiaman which 
the French Government had purchased and partially 
refitted as an armed transport. It took Jones several 
months to get her into fighting trim as a man-of-war. 
He renamed her the Bon Homme Richard, out of com- 
pliment to Franklin his revered friend and patron, 
who had employed the pseudonym of " Poor Richard " 
for several of his publications. Her burden was about 
1,000 tons, and when Jones put to sea in her she 
carried an armament of forty-two guns, namely six 
eighteen-pounders on a lower gun-deck, twenty-eight 
long twelve-pounders on the gun-deck proper, and 
eight long nine-pounders on the quarter-deck. This, 
said Jones, "made her, with the eighteen-pounders, a 
fair equivalent of a thirty-six gun frigate ; or without 
them, the equal of a thirty-two as usually rated in 
the regular rate-lists of the English and French 
Navies." Her crew was a very miscellaneous one, 
for Jones had to man her as best he could. " Not 


more than fifty," he records, "including officers, 
were Americans. A hundred and ninety odd were 
aliens, partly recruited from British prisoners of 
war, partly Portuguese, and a few French sailors 
and fishermen. In addition to these 240 seamen, I 
shipped 122 French soldiers who were allowed to 
volunteer from the garrison, few or none of whom 
had before served aboard ship, and the commandant 
of the dockyard loaned me twelve regular marines, 
whom I made non-commissioned officers. . . . My 
reason for shipping such a large number was that 
I meditated descents on the enemy's coasts, and also 
that I wished to be sure of force enough to keep my 
mixed and motley crew of seamen in order." l The 
Bon Homme Richard was to be the flag-ship of a small 
squadron, of which Jones, flying the American flag, 
was commodore, the other ships being the Alliance, 
commanded by Pierre Landais, also bearing an 
American commission, a new American frigate carry- 
ing a gun-deck battery of twenty-six long twelve- 

1 It is not pleasant to note that English subjects should have 
shipped under an enemy's flag, even though they obtained release 
from captivity by so doing. But otherwise the miscellaneous 
character of the crew of the Bon Homme Richard will cause little 
surprise to students of naval history. Thirty years later, in 1808, 
Captain, afterwards Admiral, Sir Byam Martin, who commanded the 
Implacable in the Baltic, gave the following description of the crew 
of that ship. " I have just now been amusing myself in ascertaining 
the diversity of human beings which compose the crew of a British 
man-of-war, and, as I think you will be entertained with a statement 
of the ridiculous medley, it shall follow precisely as their place of 
nativity is inserted in the ship's books : English 285, Irish 130, 
Welsh 25, Isle of Man 6, Scots 29, Shetland 3, Orkneys 2, Guernsey 
2, Canada 1, Jamaica 1, Trinidad 1, St. Domingo 2, St. Kitts I, 
Martinique 1, Santa Cruz 1, Bermuda 1, Swedes 8, Danes 7, 
Prussians 8, Dutch 1, Germans 3, Corsica 1, Portuguese 5, Sicily 1, 
Minorca 1, Ragusa 1, Brazils 1, Spanish 2, Madeira 1, Americans 28, 
West Indies 2, Bengal 2. This statement does not include officers 
of any description, and may be considered applicable to every British 
ship with the exception that very few of them have so many native 
subjects? — Letters of Sir T. Byam Martin, vol. ii., Navy Records 
Society, 1898. 



pounders and ten long nine-pounders above; the Pallas, 
a smaller frigate, commanded by a French officer named 
Cottineau, and armed with twenty-two long nine- 
pounders, and ten long six-pounders; and the Vengeance, 
a twelve-gun brig carrying six-pounders, commanded 
by a Frenchman named Ricot. Landais was a reckless 
and unscrupulous adventurer who had been cashiered 
from the French Navy, and having made his way 
to America had foisted himself on the United States 
naval authorities as an officer of high distinction. 
Accepted at his own valuation, he was given the 
command of the Alliance which brought Lafayette 
back to France. Disloyal, insubordinate, quarrelsome, 
self-willed, and self-seeking, Landais proved a traitor 
to his adopted flag during the cruise of the squadron, 
and on its arrival at the Texel, after the famous fight 
with the Serapis in which he bore a very equivocal 
part, he was deprived of his command by Jones and 
ordered by Franklin to report himself in Paris. 
Later, through the machinations of Arthur Lee, one 
of the American Commissioners in Europe, he was 
restored to the command of the Alliance, in which 
Arthur Lee, having ceased to be a member of the 
European Commission, was to take passage to the 
United States. Franklin stoutly contested this arrange- 
ment, and peremptorily forbade Landais, who had been 
ordered for trial by court-martial on his arrival in 
the United States, to " usurp command of the Alliance." 
The French Government gave orders that if the ship 
attempted to leave L'Orient under the command of 
Landais the commandant of the port was to stop her 
at all hazards, even if it was necessary to sink her 
by a cannonade from the forts. Jones, who was in 
Paris at the time, was informed of this order, and 
forthwith proceeded with all haste to L'Orient, where 
he succeeded in persuading the commandant to 
suspend the orders to fire. " M. de Thevenard," he 
reported to Franklin, " had made every necessary 
preparation to stop the Alliance. . . . He had the 


evening before sent orders to the forts to fire on the 
Alliance, and, if necessary, to sink her to the bottom 
if they attempted to pass or even approach the barrier 
across the entrance of the port. Had I remained 
silent an hour longer the dreadful work would have 
been done. Your humanity will, I know, justify the 
part I acted in preventing a scene that would have 
rendered me miserable for the rest of my life. At 
my request, and on my agreeing to take the whole 
responsibility, the Chevalier de Thevenard suspended 
the orders to fire, and the Alliance was permitted to be 
warped and towed through the rocks, and is now at 
anchor in the outer roads." The Alliance sailed the next 
day, with Lee on board and Landais in command. But 
the latter soon showed his cross-grained and even 
crazy disposition by shaping a course for the Azores, 
and declaring his intention of cruising in the West 
Indies. Lee, thereupon, resuming his resigned 
authority as a Commissioner of the United States, 
took upon himself to declare Landais insane — he had 
graduated M.D. at Edinburgh — and ordered the 
second-in-command to take charge of the ship. On 
the arrival of the Alliance in Boston, a court of inquiry 
was held and Landais was declared unfit to command. 
He never served in the American Navy again. Jones 
has often been represented as quarrelsome, headstrong, 
vindictive, and relentless. He knew that Landais was 
a knave and a traitor; he knew also that Lee was 
bitterly hostile to himself, and he believed him to be a 
traitor to his country. He had only to remain passive, 
and the French guns of L'Orient would have rid the 
world of both. But he entertained no thought of 
private vengeance when the public interests were at 
stake. He knew that the destruction of the Alliance 
would not only sacrifice the lives of more than two 
hundred valiant and loyal seamen, but might gravely 
prejudice that alliance between France and the United 
States on which so much was to depend, and of which 
the very name of the ship was the commemorative 



symbol. When all this is considered, it must, I think, 
be conceded that Jones was, at any rate, no mere 

The little squadron first put to sea on June 19, but 
returned to port within a few days, the Bon Homme 
Richard and the Alliance having fouled each other in 
a violent storm off Cape Finisterre. Landais was 
afterwards charged with having wilfully caused this 
misadventure but his guilt was never judicially estab- 
lished. Six weeks were occupied in repairing the 
damaged ships, but the delay was not disadvantageous 
in the end. An exchange had just been arranged be- 
tween certain American prisoners confined in England 
and the English prisoners whom Jones had brought 
to France after the capture of the Drake. Nearly 
all the American prisoners liberated were enlisted by 
Jones for service in his squadron, and a corresponding 
number of the aliens originally shipped were discharged. 
Jones thus acquired the services of many officers and 
petty officers who afterwards fought so gallantly and 
even desperately in the fight with the Serapis. 
Prisoners of war received no very gentle treatment 
in England in those days, and American prisoners 
in particular, being regarded as rebels rather than 
prisoners, were probably treated more harshly than 
the rest. Jones, in one of his letters, speaks of a certain 
Captain Cunningham, an American naval officer who 
was " confined at Plymouth, in a dungeon and in 
fetters." It was, as we have seen, in order to secure a 
hostage for the better treatment of American prisoners 
in England that Jones had planned to carry off the 
Earl of Selkirk from St. Mary's Isle. Anyhow, the 
liberated Americans were animated by a bitter spirit of 
resentment ; and when one of them, John Mayrant, led 
the boarders of the Bon Homme Richard over the side of 
the Serapis, he did so to the cry of" Remember Portsea 
jail ! " Naturally enough they fought with desperation 
when the time came. At the court-martial which was 
held on the surrender of the Serapis, her captain was 


asked to what he attributed the " extraordinary and 
unheard-of desperate stubbornness " of his adversaries. 
M I do not know, sir," was his reply, " unless it was 
because our Government, in its inscrutable wisdom, 
had allowed, if it did not cause, the impression to be 
spread abroad that Captain Jones and his crew would 
be held pirates or, at least, not entitled to the usages 
of civilized war." There is, indeed, little doubt that, 
had Jones been worsted in that memorable encounter, 
he and his followers might have ended their days on 
a British gallows. On his arrival at the Texel after 
the battle he was denounced to the States-General 
by the British Ambassador at the Hague as u a certain 
Paul Jones, a subject of the King, who, according to 
treaties and the laws of war, can only be considered 
as a rebel and a pirate." 

Early in August the squadron was again ready 
for sea. Just before it set sail on August 14 Jones 
was compelled — apparently at the instance of Le 
Ray de Chaumont, the French naval commissary of 
the squadron — to sign a so-called " Concordat," which 
placed the control of the squadron under a sort of 
council of war composed of all the captains. In a 
letter to his friend Hewes, Jones denounced this 
Concordat — which out of politic regard for the exi- 
gencies of the French alliance Franklin had sanctioned 
and induced Jones to accept— as " the most amazing 
document that the putative commander of a naval force 
in time of war was ever forced to sign on the eve of 
weighing anchor;" and declared that, by signing it, 
he was unable to see that he had done less than " sur- 
render all military right of seniority, or that he had 
any real right to consider his flag-ship anything more 
than a convenient rendezvous where the captains of 
the other ships may assemble, whenever it pleases 
them to do so, for the purpose of talking over and 
agreeing — if they can agree — upon a course of sailing 
or a plan of operations from time to time." Never- 
theless he signed it. It added greatly to his difficulties, 


but it did not prevent his triumphing over them in 
the end. Indeed, by lending some cloak to the dis- 
loyalty of Landais, it may have averted an open 
rupture between the choleric commodore and his 
intractable lieutenant, though it certainly put little 
or no restraint upon the insubordination and inde- 
pendence of the latter. Be this as it may, it is, as 
Mr. Buell truly says, by no means the least merit 
of Jones's famous achievement off Flamborough 
Head, " that his genius, sorely tried as it had been 
by other obstacles, finally rose superior to even Le 
Ray de Chaumont's 'Concordat.'" 


The moment was not ill-chosen for a raid in British 
waters. Jones had clearly before his mind the 
advantages of a diversion effected at this particular 
juncture. England was already fighting at sea in 
two hemispheres, and was hard put to it to hold her 
own. Spain had concluded an alliance with France, 
and had declared war against England on June 16, 
1779. D'Orvilliers, with a fleet of twenty-eight sail 
of the line — the fleet with which he had baffled Keppel 
the year before — had put out from Brest unopposed, 
and before the end of July he had effected his junction 
with the Spanish fleet off the Peninsula and made at 
once for the Channel with a combined fleet of no fewer 
than sixty-six sail of the line. By August 16 he was 
off Plymouth, Admiral Sir Charles Hardy, who was on 
the look-out for him with the Channel Fleet of only 
thirty-eight ships, having missed him by taking station 
too far to the westward and southward of Scilly. I 
have examined this situation at some length in the pre- 
ceding essay on Duncan. 1 For many days D'Orvilliers 
remained unchallenged in the Channel, and it was 
not until September 1 that the two fleets came in 
sight of each other near the Eddystone. But Hardy 
1 See pp. 137-142. 


declined to risk an action, and D'Orvilliers did not 
attempt to force one. Divided counsels, distracted 
and vacillating plans of campaign, the indifferent 
equipment of both the allied fleets and a raging sick- 
ness among their crews compelled, or at any rate 
induced, him to retreat, and Hardy, not less inglori- 
ously, anchored his fleet at Spithead on September 3. 
It was just at this very time that Jones entered the 
North Sea with his squadron, having passed to the 
westward outside Ireland and the Hebrides. On the 
morning of the 17th he was off the Firth of Forth, 
and this was probably the first intimation of his 
proceedings and whereabouts that was likely to reach 
the British Government. It was not merely luck that 
thus gave him his opportunity. It was, at least in 
some measure, astute calculation as well. He knew 
that so long as D'Orvilliers was at sea and aiming 
at the Channel there would be very few ships to spare 
to cruise at large in remoter British waters. 

The first part of the cruise was comparatively 
uneventful save for the occasional capture of prizes, 
which were sent into various ports, French, Danish, 
and Dutch, their crews being detained as prisoners 
on board the Bon Homme Richard. It thus came about 
that when Jones engaged the Serapis he had more 
than two hundred British prisoners confined under 
hatches. 1 Off the west coast of Ireland the squadron 
encountered a gale, and the Alliance became detached. 
But on September 1 she was sighted off Cape Wrath, 
having just taken one prize and being then in pursuit 

1 The recovery of the prize-money due for these prizes and others 
taken in his earlier cruise gave rise to much tedious and intricate 
negotiation, in which Jones took an active part in later years as a 
Special Commissioner appointed by the United States for the 
purpose. I do not propose to deal at any length with this part of 
Jones's career, and need only remark here that in the conduct of 
the negotiations Jones displayed remarkable patience, perseverance, 
and diplomatic address, and handled the many difficult questions 
of international and maritime law involved with the touch of a 


of another, which Jones helped her to capture. Jones 
ordered Landais to send these prizes to Brest or 
L'Orient, but Landais, after nightfall, directed them 
to make for Bergen, where they were forthwith seized 
and restored to the British Government, the Kingdom 
of Denmark, which at that time included Norway, 
not having recognised the United States and being 
wholly under the influence of England. Jones subse- 
quently expended much tedious and fruitless negotia- 
tion in an endeavour to obtain compensation from 
the Danish Government for the seizure of these 

The squadron now cruised along the east coast of 
Scotland, taking a few small prizes, and on Septem- 
ber 16 it was off the Firth of Forth. Jones here 
attempted to make a descent on Leith, but was baffled 
by a gale which sprang up just as his boats were 
being lowered for the attack, and drove him out t< 
sea. In this attempt the Alliance took no part, Landais 
having by this time ceased to attend to the commodore's 
signals, and begun to maintain an entirely independent 
attitude. Baffled at Leith by the weather, Jones pur- 
sued his course to the southward, giving Spurn Hea< 
as his rendezvous. He knew that a British convoy 
from the Baltic was due about this season of the year, 
and that it generally made its landfall at Flamborough 
Head after crossing the North Sea. He intended to 
intercept it if he could, but his intentions were only 
partially fulfilled, for the convoy escaped. He got 
news of the convoy on the evening of September 22, 
when he was off the Spurn and intending the next 
morning to attack a fleet of colliers windbound and 
anchored in the mouth of the Humber. The Vengeance 
brought him word that the Baltic convoy had put into 
Bridlington Bay and was there awaiting a favourable 
wind to carry it to the Downs. The Pallas was then 
in company, and the Alliance was hull down to the 
southward. Jones at once sent the Vengeance to 
give Landais a rendezvous off Flamborough Head, 


and forthwith made sail thither with the Pallas in 
company. He reached the rendezvous before daylight, 
and there hove to for a time to enable his consorts 
to come up with him. The morning was occupied in 
successive manoeuvres for position, which need not 
be recounted in detail. It suffices to say that the 
convoy was so handled that it had weathered Flam- 
borough Head so as to fetch Scarborough before 
Jones could get into position to intercept it, and that 
its escorting men of war, the Serapis and the Countess 
of Scarborough, had occupied a covering position 
between Jones and his intended prey. But Jones 
was not to be baffled. If he could not reach the 
convoy itself, he would try conclusions with its escort. 
The Serapis, having seen the convoy safe to leeward, 
awaited his onslaught, with the Countess of Scarborough 
under her lee. Jones ordered the Pallas to attack the 
latter, and prepared himself to attack the Serapis, 
ordering the Vengeance at the same time to keep out 
of harm's way. " You are not big enough," he said, 
" to bear a hand in this." The Countess of Scarborough 
was a hired vessel, temporarily commissioned as a 
man-of-war, carrying twenty-four guns. She was no 
match for the Pallas, and was overpowered by the 
latter and compelled to surrender, after a gallant 
action in which both vessels suffered severely. The 
Alliance was in the offing, but her treacherous captain 
took very little share in the action — enough, indeed, 
to afford the captain of the Serapis some colourable 
pretext of having surrendered to a superior force, 
and more than enough to furnish proof of his malig- 
nant treachery by firing only when he was much 
more likely to hurt the Richard than to hit the Serapis. 
Soon after 7 p.m. the two chief combatants, the Serapis 
and the Richard, were within short range of each 
other abeam, some seven miles due east of Flamborough 
Head, the wind being light from the S.S.W. and 
veering to the westward, the sea smooth, the sky clear, 
and the moon full, both ships going free on the same 


tack and heading approximately N.W., the Richard 
holding the weather-gage. The Serapis twice hailed 
the Richard, and the second time was answered with 
a broadside. 


Then ensued a conflict the like of which has seldom 
been seen on the seas. 

11 The Serapis, forty guns," says Disraeli, " was one of 
the finest frigates in his Majesty's Navy, and had 
been off the stocks only a few months. Her crew 
were picked men, and she was commanded by Captain 
Richard Pearson, an officer celebrated even in the 
British Navy for his undaunted courage and exemplary 
conduct. The Bon Homme Richard was an old ship 
with decayed timbers, and had made four voyages to 
the East Indies. Many of her guns were useless, 
and all were ancient. Her crew consisted partly of 
Americans, partly of French, and partly of Maltese, 
Portugueze, and even Malays ; and this crew was 
weak also in numbers, for two boats' crews had been 
lost on the coast of Ireland. . . . The Portugueze and 
the other foreigners could speak neither French nor 
English, and chattering in their native tongues, with- 
out ceasing, added not a little to the difficulties which 
presented themselves. The American commander 
had nothing to trust to but his own undaunted 
courage and extraordinary skill." 

There are some slight inaccuracies, and even some 
picturesque exaggerations in this contrast, but in the 
main it is just. Perhaps no man who ever lived 
except Jones could have handled such a crew as he did. 
This, indeed, is the generous and unsolicited testi- 
mony of Pearson himself, who stated in his evidence 
before the court-martial which tried and acquitted 
him for the loss of his ship, that although more than 
half the crew of the Bon Homme Richard " were French 
— or at any rate not Americans," yet u long before the 
close of the action it became clearly apparent that 
the American ship was dominated by a commanding 


will of the most unalterable resolution, and there 
could be no doubt that the intention of her commander 
was, if he could not conquer, to sink alongside. And 
this desperate resolve of the American captain was 
fully shared and fiercely seconded by every one of 
his ship's company. And, if the Honourable Court 
may be pleased to entertain an expression of opinion, 
I will venture to say that if French seamen can ever 
be induced by their own officers to fight in their own 
ships as Captain Jones induced them to fight in his 
American ship, the future burdens of his Majesty's 
Navy will be heavier than they have heretofore been." 1 

1 It is worth while to record on the testimony of one of his own 
officers, Henry Gardner, how Jones achieved this result. Gardner 
says : 

I sailed, in my time, with many captains ; but with only one Paul 
Jones. He was the captain of captains. Any other commander I 
sailed with had some kind of method or fixed rule which he exerted 
towards all those under him alike. It suited some, and others not ; 
but it was the same rule all the time and to everybody. Not so 
Paul Jones. He always knew every officer or man in his crew as 
one friend knows another. Those big black eyes of his would look 
right through a new man at first sight, and, maybe, see something 
behind him ! At any rate, he knew every man, and always dealt 
with each according to his notion. I have seen him one hour teach- 
ing the French language to his midshipmen, and the next hour 
showing an apprentice how to knot a " Turk's-head " or make a 
neat coil-down of a painter. He was in everybody's watch, and 
everybody's mess all the time. In fact, I may say that any ship 
Paul Jones commanded was full of him, himself, all the time. 
The men used to get crazy about him when he was with them and 
talking to them. It was only when his back was turned that any 
one could wean them away from him. If you heard peals of 
laughter from the forecastle, it was likely that he was there spinning 
funny yarns for Jack off watch. If you heard a roar of merriment 
at the cabin-table, it was likely that his never-failing wit had over- 
whelmed the officers' mess. 

He was very strict. I have seen him sternly reprove a young 
sailor, who approached him, for what he called " a lubber's walk " ; 
say to him, " See here, this is the way to walk." And then, after 
putting the novice through his paces two or three times, he would 
say to him : " Ah, that's better ! You'll be a blue-water sailor be- 
fore you know it, my boy ! " And then he would give the shipmate 
a guinea out of his own pocket. 

Above all things he hated the cat-o'-nine-tails. In two of his ships 
— the Providence and the Ranger — he threw it overboard the first day 
out. There was one in the Alfred that he never allowed to be used, 
and two in the Richard that were never used but twice. He con- 


The broadside of the Richard was answered almost 
simultaneously by that of the Serapis, and the firing 
continued with fury on both sides. In a very short 
time the Richard's lower tier of eighteen-pounders 
was put out of action, some of the guns being dis- 
mounted and the rest disabled in various ways, not 
without grave injury to the structure of the ship. 
They were old guns, which had been condemned as of 
no further use in the French Navy, and they only fired 
eight shots in all. " Three of them," says Jones, 
" burst at the first fire, killing almost all the men who 
were stationed to manage them." The remaining guns 
on the main and upper decks of the Richard were 
serviceable and were very well served. But they 
were overmatched by the superior armament of the 
Serapis. After about half an hour of this furious 
cannonade Pearson tried to get athwart the Richard's 
hawse, so as to rake her and possibly to secure the 
weather-gage on the opposite tack. But this attempt 
failed, baffled apparently by the veering of the wind. 

sented to flog the lookout forward when the Richard fouled the 
Alliance the second day out from L'Orient ; and also he allowed old 
Jack Robinson to persuade him that two foretop-men ought to be 
whipped for laying from aloft without orders when the squall struck 
us in the Richard off Leith. But when .he consented to this he 
strictly enjoined upon old Jack that the men must be floerged with 
their shirts on, which, of course, made a farce of the whole proceed- 
ing. He said at this time : " I have no use for the cat. Whenever a 
sailor of mine gets vicious beyond my persuasion or control, the 
cheapest thing in the long run is to kill him right away. If you do 
that, the others will understand it. But if you trice him up and flog 
him, all the other bad fellows in the ship will sympathise with him 
and hate you." 

All the men under his command soon learned this trait in his 
character. One Sunday when we were off the west coast of Ireland, 
just after we had lost the barge and Mr. Lunt, he addressed the 
crew on the subject of discipline. He told them that, many years 
before, when he was a boy in the merchant-service, he had seen a 
man " flogged round the fleet " at Port Royal, Jamaica. He said the 
man died under the lash ; and he then made up his mind that Paul 
Jones and the cat-o'-nine-tails would part company. " I tell you, my 
men," he said, " once for all, that when I become convinced that a 
sailor of mine must be killed, I will not leave it to be done by boat- 
swain's mates under slow torture of the lash ! But I will do it myself 
— and so G — d — quick that it will make your heads swim ! " 


Pearson accordingly bore up again to leeward, but not 
soon enough to prevent the Richard fouling the Serapis, 
the jib-boom of the former engaging with the mizen- 
rigging of tne latter. Jones at once attempted to 
grapple, but though his grapnels caught they failed to 
hold, and the ships fell apart again. The cannonade 
was then renewed as furiously as ever, and it was 
very soon plain enough that the Richard was getting 
by far the worst of it. " Dick," said Jones to Richard 
Dale, his first lieutenant in command of the gun-deck, 
11 his metal is too heavy for us at this business. He is 
hammering us all to pieces. We must close with 
him ; we must get hold of him ! Be prepared at any 
moment to abandon this deck and bring what men you 
have left on the spar-deck — and give them the small 
arms for boarding when you come up." Already there 
were three or four feet of water in the hold, and the 
ship had sunk to at least two feet below her ordinary 
trim. But a change was at hand. The wind continued 
to veer, and to freshen as it veered, the Richard 
getting the advantage of it first so as to weather the 
Serapis and stop her way by taking the wind out 
of her sails. Meanwhile the cannonade continued and 
the gun-deck of the Richard was in turn abandoned, so 
that she could now only fire with a few of her quarter- 
deck guns. Gradually the Richard forged ahead and 
began to wear across the bows of the Serapis. If 
she could complete this manoeuvre before the Serapis 
recovered her way, she would have another opportunity 
to grapple, and should that manoeuvre succeed the 
fortune of the day might still be reversed. 

It was at this critical juncture that Landais thought 
proper to take a hand in the game. The Alliance 
came up to windward, and when on the Richard's port- 
quarter, about two cables away, she fired a couple of 
broadsides which in the relative position of the three 
ships could hardly have hit the Serapis and hardly 
have missed the Richard. She then sheered off out of 
gunshot, having done all the mischief she could. All 


this time Jones was pursuing his manoeuvre of getting 
ahead of the Scrafiis, crossing her bows, and rounding 
to on the opposite tack so as to lay his ship close 
alongside, and, since his guns were now mostly 
silenced, to bring his musketry into play. In this he 
succeeded, aided by a fortunate puff and favourable 
slant of the wind, which from the position of the two 
ships could not reach the sails of his adversary. 
Pearson thus describes the situation in his despatch 
to the Admiralty : " I backed our topsails in order 
to get square with him again, which as soon as he 
observed, he then filled, put his helm a-weather and 
laid us athwart hawse ; his mizen shrouds took our 
jib-boom, which hung him for some time, till it at last 
gave way, and we dropt alongside of each other, 
head and stern, when the fluke of our spare anchor, 
hooking his quarter, we became so close, fore and aft, 
that the muzzles of our guns touched each other's 
sides. In this position we engaged from half-past 
eight to half-past ten ; during which time, from the 
great quantity and variety of combustible matters 
which they threw in upon our decks, chains, and in 
short into every part of the ship, we were on fire no 
less than ten or twelve times in different parts of the 
ship, and it was with the greatest difficulty and exer- 
tion imaginable at times that we were able to get it 
extinguished. At the same time the largest of the two 
frigates kept sailing round us the whole action, and 
raking us fore and aft, by which means she killed or 
wounded almost every man on the quarter and main- 
decks." It is only right to quote this testimony in 
regard to the action of Landais in the Alliance, though 
it may be observed that it was manifestly Pearson's 
interest to make out that he was defeated by two ships 
and not by one. There is, on the other hand, abundant 
American testimony to show that Landais' action was 
not continuous, and that on the two successive occa- 
sions when he opened fire he did so with little or no 
regard to the immunity of the Richard, and with no 


chance at all of doing the Serapis more harm than he 
actually did to the Richard. 

No sooner had the anchor of the Serapis caught 
in the mizen-chains of the Richard than Jones had 
it securely lashed there, passing, it is said, some of 
the lashings with his own hand. The main-deck of 
the Richard had now been abandoned, for Jones had 
determined, as soon as he could grapple, to fight 
the battle out with musketry and hand-grenades. 
Only two or three guns on his quarter-deck were 
still serviceable, and these were trained on the main- 
mast of the Serapis. It was otherwise with the 
Serapis. Her starboard broadside was now brought 
into action ; the gun's crews were shifted over, and 
as the starboard port-sills had been lowered and 
could not be triced up because the ships were so 
close together, they were blown out by the first 
discharge of the broadside. Thus the material de- 
struction of the Richard went on apace. Nevertheless, 
Jones was now beginning to get the upper hand on 
deck. He kept up such a murderous fire from his 
small arms that scarcely a man could live on the 
deck of the Serapis, and in particular he directed 
his personal efforts to frustrating every attempt made 
by the crew of the Serapis to cast loose the fastenings 
of the anchor which held her to the Richard. Never- 
theless, the Richard was fast getting lower in the 
water, and was frequently set on fire. " I had," says 
Jones, " two enemies to contend with besides the 
English — fire and water." It was probably at this 
stage of the action, though Pearson puts it later, that 
some one on board the Richard called for quarter. 
Thereupon, as Pearson said at the court-martial, 
11 Hearing, or thinking that I heard, a call for quarter 
from the enemy, I hailed to ask if he had struck his 
colours. I did not myself hear the reply ; but one 
of my midshipmen, Mr. Hood, did hear it, and soon 
reported it to me. It was to the effect that he was 
just beginning to fight. This I at first thought to 


be mere bravado on his part. But I soon perceived 
that it was the defiance of a man desperate enough, 
if he could not conquer, to sink with his ship along- 
side." But Jones was not going to sink until he had 
conquered the Serapis. The guns of the Serapis 
continued to pound the timbers of the Richard, but 
the musketry of the Richard continued to clear the 
decks of the Serapis. The ships were now drifting 
and swinging, and by this time, about half-past nine, 
the Serapis was nearly head to wind, — the wind being 
now at W.N.W., — and still paying off to leeward. It 
was in this situation that the master-at-arms of the 
Richard, believing that the ship was about to sink, 
opened the hatch below which the prisoners were 
confined and bade them come on deck. Jones, who 
was at hand — he seems to have been ubiquitous 
during the fight — knocked the master-at-arms down 
and ordered the hatch to be again secured. Those 
who had escaped were ordered to man the pumps. 
One who refused was shot dead by Pierre Gerard, 
the commodore's French orderly, subsequently a 
captain in the French Navy, who was second-in-com- 
mand of the Neptune at Trafalgar. 1 

All this time the struggle for the mastery of the 
deck of the Serapis was proceeding with unabated 
fury, and Jones now sent up a supply of hand 
grenades into the main-top. These he directed the 
officers and men in the top to drop, if they could, 
from the yard-arm through the enemy's main-hatch. 

1 Jones was afterwards accused of murdering his prisoners. At 
a court of inquiry held by order of the French Minister of Marine 
at Jones's request, Gerard explicitly stated that he killed the man 
on his own responsibility and without any orders from the com- 
modore who was standing by at the time. Asked further why he 
did this in the immediate presence of his commanding officer and 
without his orders, he replied : " Pour eviter les de'sagrements, 
monsieur ; aussi pour encourager les autres prisonniers ; ainsi pour 
subvenir au Commodore les besoins d'un devoir assez pdnible." 
Evidently Gerard had not been his commodore's orderly for nothing. 
Als e had apparently read his Voltaire. 


The expedient was successful, and practically decided 
the conflict. At the third attempt a midshipman 
named Fanning, who was outermost on the yard-arm, 
managed to drop his grenade through the hatch on to 
the main-deck of the Serapis, where it ignited and ex- 
ploded a row of cartridges ranged all along the deck. 
" About half-past nine," says Pearson in his despatch, 
11 either from a hand grenade being thrown in at one 
of our lower-deck ports, or from some other accident, 
a cartridge of powder was set on fire, the flames of 
which, running from cartridge to cartridge all the way 
aft, blew up the whole of the people and officers that 
were quartered abaft the mainmast ; from which un- 
fortunate circumstance all those guns were rendered 
useless for the remainder of the action, and I fear 
the greatest part of the people will lose their lives." 
Throughout this period of the action the two ships 
still continued swinging until, about ten o'clock, the 
Seraph was heading nearly due south. Here the 
Alliance again put in an appearance. She returned from 
the northward, running down again to leeward, and, 
as Jones stated in the formal charges he subsequently 
preferred against Landais, " in crossing the Richard's 
bows Captain Landais raked her with a third broad- 
side, after being constantly called to from the Richard 
not to fire but to lay the enemy alongside." Pearson 
stated in his despatch that the Serapis also suffered 
heavily from this broadside of the Alliance, " without 
our being able to bring a gun to bear on her." This 
testimony is unimpeachable, but so also is the testi- 
mony which avers that the Richard received a full 
share of the same broadside. Anyhow, the Alliance, 
without attempting " to lay the enemy alongside," 
ran off to leeward and took no further part in the 
action, nor did she attempt to destroy or capture 
any of the ships of the convoy. 

Before this, Pearson, according to his despatch, had 
attempted to board the Richard, but his boarders had 
been repulsed by a superior number of the enemy 


11 laying under cover with pikes in their hands ready 
to receive them." He now anchored his ship, hoping 
that the enemy might drift clear as soon as the strain 
came on the cable. It was his last chance, but the 
lashings still held. It was now Jones's turn to board. 
He had collected a numerous boarding party of his 
best American seamen — men fresh from imprisonment 
in England — under the break of the quarter-deck, and 
bidden John Mayrant to lead them over the side as 
soon as he gave the signal. There was now very little 
fight left in the Scrapis. Henry Gardner records that 
"after the battle the prisoners said, without exception, 
they had no more stomach for fighting after the 
explosion, and were induced to return to their guns 
and resume firing only by their strict discipline 
and the example of their first lieutenant, who told 
them that if they would hold out a few minutes 
longer, the Richard would surely sink." Jones, per- 
ceiving that their fire was slackening, and their spirit 
waning, shouted to Mayrant, "Now is your time, 
John. Go in !" Instantly, with a cry of " Remember 
Portsea jail," Mayrant sprang over the netting, 
followed by his men, and began fighting his way aft. 
There was little resistance, though Mayrant himself, 
at the moment of onslaught, was wounded in the thigh 
by a pike. He shot his opponent down, and this was 
the last casualty of the action. Pearson, seeing that 
the boarders were steadily making their way aft and 
that further resistance was useless, now struck his 
flag. Some accounts say that he hauled it down with 
his own hands. Anyhow, he says himself, " I found 
it in vain, and in short impracticable, from the situa- 
tion we were in, to stand out any longer with the 
least prospect of success ; I therefore struck (our 
mainmast at the same time went by the board)." 
It is true that he attributes his surrender mainly to 
the fire of the Alliance, and does not mention the 
onslaught of Mayrant and his men. But, however 
the result may have been brought about, he frankly 


acknowledged himself beaten. He had fought man- 
fully and skilfully to the finish, and with all the 
tenacity and endurance of British seamen at their 
best. But Jones had fought, as Pearson acknowledged 
at the court-martial, " with extraordinary and un- 
heard-of desperate stubbornness " ; and this, he added, 
" had so depressed the spirits of my people that when 
more than two hundred had been slain or disabled 
out of three hundred and seventeen all told, I could 
not urge the remnant to further resistance." Of 
course it may be urged that Jones and all his men 
fought with halters round their necks, and that this 
was the secret of their " extraordinary and unheard-of 
desperate stubbornness." But it were more generous 
to acknowledge that Jones fought as he did because, 
being the man that he was, a man of Nelson's mould, 
he knew no other way of fighting. 

The cost of victory was appalling. I have quoted 
Pearson's account of the condition of his own ship 
when he hauled down his flag. Here is his account 
of the Richard: u On my going on board the Bon 
Homme Richard^ I found her in great distress ; her 
quarters and counter on the lower deck entirely drove 
in, and the whole of her lower-deck guns dismounted ; 
she was also on fire in two places, and six or seven feet 
of water in her hold, which kept increasing upon them 
all night and next day, till they were obliged to quit 
her, and she sunk, with a great number of her 
wounded people on board of her. She had three hun- 
dred and six men killed and wounded in the action ; 
our loss in the Serapis was also very great." Jones 
himself, in a letter to Franklin, describes the con- 
dition of his ship at a moment when after the final 
broadside of the Alliance he was advised to surrender 
by some of his comrades " of whose courage and good 
sense he entertained the highest opinion." He re- 
jected their advice, but he acknowledges that the 
situation was well-nigh desperate. " Our rudder 
was entirely off; the stern-frame and transomes 



were almost entirely cut away ; the timbers by the 
lower deck, especially from the mainmast to the 
stern, being greatly decayed by age, were mangled 
beyond every power of description ; and a person 
must have been an eye-witness to have formed a 
just idea of the tremendous scene of carnage, wreck, 
and ruin that everywhere appeared." Nevertheless, 
he was the victor, the victor in spite of Landais, 
and perhaps, after all, mainly because the Alliance 
was still " in being " and still intact. Pearson 
seems to have held that even if the Richard sur- 
rendered or sank, the Serapis, in her battered and 
dispirited condition, must have fallen an immediate 
prey to the Alliance, which had only fired three 
broadsides at times when the Serapis could not 
possibly reply. There is evidence to show that this 
was also the calculation of Landais himself. 1 He 
would certainly not have been sorry to see the 
Richard sink with Jones on board, knowing full well 
that should that happen the laurels of the victory, 

1 The best account of Landais's conduct as it appeared to the 
officers of Jones's squadron is given by Disraeli. It is as follows : 
w His gross disrespect to the commodore, his disobedience of signals, 
his refusal to answer them, his unauthorized and mischievous separa- 
tion from the squadron, his impudent and arrant cowardice, formed 
the subject of ten distinct accusations, which were proved by all the 
officers who could bear witness to the facts. His conduct during 
the engagement with the Serapis, and his ruinous neglect in not 
destroying and capturing the Baltic fleet, were the subject of fifteen 
other accusations, and were proved in the same manner. The chief 
officers of the Alliance bore witness to the ill-conduct of their 
commander. Among other facts De Cottineau averred that when 
the Bon Homme {? Serapis) appeared off Flamborough Head, 
Landais distinctly stated to him that if, as it appeared to be, it 
were a ship of fifty guns, ' he should decidedly run away,' although 
he knew the Pallas, from her heavy sailing, must have fallen a 
sacrifice. It was also distinctly proved that Landais had stated 
that he should not have cared had the Bon Homme struck, as 
then, from the shattered state of the Serapis, he should have had 
both ships for prizes." A man of this character and in this mood 
would assuredly not be very careful to spare his consort when he 
opened fire on her adversary. 


albeit wholly unearned, would be his alone. But 
fate and the fortitude of Jones decreed that this 
reward of his treachery, at any rate, he should not 
reap. Balked of his prey, he stood aloof as soon as 
he saw that the Seraph had surrendered, and gave 
no help whatever in the overpowering task which 
now confronted Jones of saving what he could from 
the wreck. The Richard was slowly but inevitably 
sinking. She remained afloat for some thirty hours 
after the end of the battle. In the short interval 
Jones had to provide first for the safety and sea- 
worthiness of the Serapis, which had lost her main- 
mast and otherwise suffered severely in the action ; 
next to transfer to her over two hundred prisoners 
held in the Richard and over one hundred wounded of 
his own men ; to take care of these latter as well as 
of about the same number of men wounded in the 
Serapis ; and to guard the unwounded remainder of 
the crew of the latter, numbering one hundred and 
eleven. To carry out all this he had only about one 
hundred and fifty of his own men left fit for service, 
and many of these had been injured slightly in action. 
The ships had been cut adrift as soon as the action 
ceased, so that the transfer of wounded and prisoners 
to the Serapis had to be effected by boats, of which 
there were only three available. Fortunately the wind 
had died away during the night and the sea fell dead 
calm, or the Richard must have sunk with many of 
the wounded and prisoners still on board. The Pallas 
rendered some assistance, and about one hundred of 
the unwounded prisoners — including Pearson himself 
— were ultimately berthed on board her, but not be- 
fore the Richard had foundered. It is not recorded 
what became of the Vengeance, but as much fog 
prevailed for a day or two after the action she may 
have lost touch with the commodore, as the Alliance 
certainly did with much less excuse. The Alliance, at 
any rate, had not been ordered as the Vengeance was 
to keep out of the way. On the contrary, she had 


been ordered, as we have seen, to "lay the enemy 
alongside." Anyhow, she was not seen after the 
battle, and with the Vengeance she reached the Texel 
before the Sera pis and Pallas did with the Countess 
of Scarborough in company. This was natural enough, 
for neither had any serious damages to repair. 

Pearson, as we have seen, reported that the Richard 
sank " with a great number of her wounded people on 
board of her." This is at variance with the American 
accounts, which declare that all the wounded were 
transferred to the Scrapis, though some died in the 
boats. Jones's own narrative is quite explicit on 
this point. It was, however, written some years 
afterwards, and it is also so characteristic that it 
may well serve as an epilogue to this heroic conflict : 

No one was now left aboard the Richard but our 
dead. To them I gave the good old ship for their 
coffin, and in her they found a sublime sepulchre. 
She rolled heavily in the long swell, her gun-deck 
awash to the port-sills, settled slowly by the head, 
and sank peacefully in about forty fathoms. 

The ensign-gaff, shot away in the action, had been 
fished and put in place soon after the firing ceased, 
and our torn and tattered flag was left flying when 
we abandoned her. As she plunged down by the 
head at the last, her tafrrail momentarily rose in the 
air ; so the very last vestige mortal eyes ever saw of 
the Bon Homme Richard was the defiant waving of 
her unconquered and unstricken flag as she went 
down. And as I had given them the good old ship 
for their sepulchre, I now bequeathed to my immortal 
dead the flag they had so desperately defended for 
their winding sheet ! 1 

1 This flag had its own romantic history. On June 14, 1777, 
Congress passed two resolutions. The first was, " That the flag 
of the thirteen United States of America be thirteen stripes alternate 
red and white ; that the union be thirteen stars in a blue field, 
representing a new constellation " ; the second, " That Captain Paul 
Jones be appointed to command the ship Ranger." While Jones 
was fitting out the Ranger 2X Portsmouth, some girls of his acquaint- 
ance offered to hold a " quilting party," and to make him a flag for 



The calm lasted until the forenoon of September 25, 
when the Serapis, with the Pallas and Countess of 
Scarborough in company, was about seventy miles 
east of Flamborough Head. Fogs and fortune had 
screened them from several British men-of-war which 
by this time were on the look out for them. Jones 
had hoped to take his ships into Dunkirk ; but a 
stiff south-westerly wind now sprang up and freshened 
into a gale by the 27th. The battered Serapis could 
make no head against it, and Jones let her drive before 
it. The Pallas and her prize were more weatherly, 
but Cottineau and his officers would not desert their 
commodore, although Jones more than once signalled 
to them to bear up for port and leave him to take 
care of himself. On the 29th the wind shifted to 
N.W., and Jones again attempted to shape a course 
for Dunkirk. The remainder of the voyage may best 
be described in the words of Nathaniel Fanning, one 
of the surviving officers of the Richard : 

During this time the scenes on board beggared 

his new command from slices of their best silk gowns. Jones 
accepted the offer, and supplied the specification for the flag in 
accordance with the recent resolution of Congress. It is said that 
the thirteen white stars of the " new constellation " were cut out of 
the wedding dress of one of the girls, named Helen Seavey, who had 
just been married. The flag was first hoisted on board the Ranger 
on July 4, 1777. If it was not the first specimen of the " Stars and 
Stripes " ever hoisted, it was certainly the first ever seen in Europe 
and the first ever saluted by a foreign power. When Jones quitted 
the Ranger^ he took the flag with him, regarding it as his personal 
property, and he commissioned the Richard with it. When he 
returned to America, he apologised to one of the makers of the flag 
for not having brought it back to them with all its glories. " I could 
not," he said, " deny to my dead on her decks, who had given their 
lives to keep it flying, the glory of taking it with them." " You did 
exactly right, commodore," the lady replied. " That flag is just 
where we all wish it to be — flying at the bottom of the sea over the 
only ship that ever sunk in victory. If you had taken it from her and 
brought it back to us, we would hate you ! " 


description. There were but few cots, and not even 
hammocks enough for the wounded, so that many of 
them had to lie on the hard decks, where they died 
in numbers day by day. The British officers, with 
watches of their men, took almost the whole charge 
of the wounded, and so left us free to work the 
ship. Our surgeon, Dr. Brooke, and Drs. Bannatyne 
and Edgerly, the English surgeons, performed pro- 
digious work, and by their skill and ceaseless care 
saved many lives. In the common danger enmity 
was forgotten, and every one who could walk worked 
with a will to save the ship and their own lives. 
Finally, on the fifth day, the wind abated and hauled 
to the north-west, when we ran down ,to the coast of 
Holland, and made the entrance of the Helder, 
through which we made our way into the Texel, where 
we anchored about 3 p.m., October 3, finding there 
the Alliance and Vengeance, which came in the day 
before. During these few days, including those not 
wounded who died from sheer exhaustion, we buried 
not less than forty of the two crews. Neither the 
commodore nor the brave British officers ever slept 
more than two or three hours at a time, and were 
sometimes up for two days at a time. 

On his arrival at the Texel Jones was at once 
surrounded with a fresh crop of difficulties. First he 
had to deal with what he regarded as the treachery 
and mutiny of Landais. He forthwith sent to Franklin 
a formal indictment of Landais' conduct and suspended 
him from his command. But Landais at first paid 
no attention to the order. Jones then sent Cottineau 
to warn him that Jones himself would enforce the 
order within twenty-four hours, and Landais thereupon 
challenged Cottineau to a duel and went on shore. 
The duel took place, and Cottineau was wounded. 
Landais then withdrew to Amsterdam and challenged 
Jones himself; but before the preliminaries could be 
settled Landais thought proper to go to the Hague 
and seek to enlist the sympathy of the French Am- 
bassador at that place. The latter declined to see 
him. Landais then sent him a written memorial, 


which the ambassador again declined to receive, 
taking care to inform him at the same time that he 
had received a despatch from the French Government 
to the effect that Franklin had notified Landais of the 
charges preferred against him, and had ordered him 
" to render himself forthwith into Dr. Franklin's 
presence to answer them." Landais then thought 
proper to obey Franklin's order and left the Hague 
for Paris. With this he passes out of my story, 
as I have already related all that needs to be related 
concerning his subsequent career. 

Next, Jones had to make the best provision he 
could for the wounded prisoners on board the Serapis. 
Of these there were one hundred and fifty in all still 
surviving, some of them having been wounded in the 
Countess of Scarborough. As the Serapis had also over 
one hundred wounded of the Richard's crew, and the 
Pallas had a dozen or more wounded of her own, it 
was clearly to the interest of all parties to land at least 
the British wounded as soon as possible. At first 
the Dutch authorities refused to allow any one to be 
landed. But Jones's request to be allowed to land 
his wounded prisoners was warmly seconded by 
Sir Joseph Yorke, the British Ambassador at the 
Hague, and this powerful influence induced the Dutch 
authorities to relent. All the wounded prisoners 
were landed and housed in barracks at the Texel, 
where Jones continued to furnish them with such 
hospital supplies and medical attendance as he could 
obtain. Jones was also allowed to take command of 
the fort in which they were housed, and to place a 
guard there. All the prisoners, wounded and un- 
wounded, were, after much tedious and intricate 
negotiation, ultimately handed over to the French 
Government. The French Government claimed also 
not only the Pallas and the Vengeance — which were 
commanded by French officers — and the Countess of 
Scarborough, the prize of the former, but even the 
Serapis herself. The claim was enforced, greatly to 


the chagrin of Jones, and for diplomatic reasons 
Franklin himself had supported it. " This deprivation 
of the Serapis" writes Jones, " was the sorest of 
all my wounds. . . . The Serapis had been taken 
by an American ship under the American flag, and 
commanded by virtue of an American commission. 
I could not conceive by what shadow of right M. 
de Sartine could claim her as a French prize, and 
he made no attempt to set up any." But the action 
of the French Government was probably the best way 
out of a serious diplomatic difficulty, and in any case, 
neither Franklin nor Jones could resist it, lest by so 
doing they should prejudice the French alliance which 
was all important to the United States. The Alliance, 
being an American ship, was not claimed by the French 
Government. She was left to Jones, as he bitterly 
said, " to do what I pleased or what I could with " 
her. We shall shortly see what he could do with her. 
The diplomatic difficulty above mentioned was 
only a part of a much greater difficulty with which 
Jones was confronted and perplexed during his 
harassed stay at the Texel. We have seen that the 
British Ambassador at the Hague had supported 
Jones's request to the Dutch Government to be 
allowed to land his wounded prisoners ; but at the 
same time, or immediately afterwards, Sir Joseph 
Yorke represented to the Dutch Government that " a 
certain Paul Jones," being a subject of the King, 
" could only be considered as a rebel and a pirate," 
and that, in consequence, he and all his men should 
be given up. In a subsequent despatch, written some 
three weeks later, he repeated the same demand. 
Jones was now to show that his diplomatic address 
was no unworthy a complement to his fighting 
capacity. Under date November 4, 1779, he addressed 
the following letter to the States General : 

High and Mighty Lords : 

Begging your gracious and condescending con- 
sideration, I, Paul Jones, Captain of the United States 


Navy, represent and humbly relate that before me 
has been laid copy of a letter addressed to your High 
Mightinesses, under date of the 9th of the month of 
October, by His Excellency Sir Joseph Yorke, Am- 
bassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of His 
Majesty the King of Great Britain. That in the said 
letter the said Sir Joseph Yorke states that " two of 
His Majesty's ships, the Serapis and the Countess of 
Scarborough, arrived some days ago in the Texel, 
having been attacked and taken by force, by a certain 
Paul Jones, a subject of the King, who, according to 
treaties and the laws of war, can only be considered 
as a rebel and a pirate." 

And on this ground His Excellency Sir Joseph 
Yorke demands that the ships and crews be given up. 
Also has been laid before me copy of memorial of 
the said Sir Joseph Yorke, under date of the 29th of 
October, just past, renewing the said demand "most 
strong and urgent for the seizure and restitution of 
the said vessels as well as for the enlargement of their 
crews, who have been seized by the pirate Paul Jones, 
a Scotchman, a rebellious subject, and a state criminal." 
Also conjuring your High Mightinesses to " treat as 
pirates those whose letters (commissions) are found 
to be illegal for not being issued by a sovereign 

May it please Your High Mightinesses, I conceive 
from the foregoing that the only question in dispute 
between His Excellency Sir Joseph Yorke and myself 
is the question whether my commission has been 
"issued by a sovereign power." If my commission has 
been issued by a sovereign power, then Sir Joseph 
Yorke's contention that I am a " pirate," etc., 
must fall. 

The commission I hold, of which I transmit here- 
with a true copy and hold the original subject to 
examination by Your High Mightinesses or your 
authorized envoy for that purpose, and which original 
I have already exhibited to His Excellency Commo- 
dore Riemersma, commanding the fleet of Your High 
Mightinesses, now at anchor in these Roads, is 
issued by the Congress of the United States of America 
in due form, signed by the President thereof and 
attested with the seal. 



Such being true, the only question left to decide is 
the question whether the United States of America 
is a sovereign power. 

On this question, 1 take it for granted that Your 
High Mightinesses will agree with me that neither 
Sir Joseph Yorke nor his master, the King of Great 
Britain, can be considered competent sole judge of 
last resort. If they could be so considered, then all 
questions of every description would be subject to 
ex parte decision by the arbitrary will of one party, in 
any contest — a doctrine which must, in the estimation 
of every judicial mind, be too preposterous to contem- 
plate without levity. 

Your High Mightinesses cannot fail to be aware 
that the question of the sovereignty of the United 
States of America has been passed upon by qualified 
and competent judges. That sovereignty has been 
recognised by His Most Christian Majesty the King 
of France and Navarre, in the form of a solemn treaty 
of amity and alliance done at Versailles nearly a year 
ago and now a casus belli in the estimation of His 
Majesty the King of Great Britain. The independence 
of the United States, and with it their rightful 
sovereignty, has been recognized by His Most Catholic 
Majesty the King of Spain and the Indies. The 
belligerent rights of the United States have been 
acknowledged by His Majesty Frederick II., King of 
Prussia, and by Her Imperial Majesty Catharine II., 
Empress of all the Russias. 

It does not become me, who am only a naval officer 
of command rank, to enter upon discussion of the 
motives of statecraft which may have induced such 
attitudes or such action on the part of the august 
potentates mentioned ; but Your High Mightinesses 
will, I do not doubt, agree that it is within my 
province, humble as it may be, to invite attention to 
existing facts of common notoriety and concealed from 
no one. In the face of so much evidence, there is 
before us, by way of rebuttal, nothing but the ex parte 
declaration of His Excellency Sir Joseph Yorke, in 
behalf of his master the King of Great Britain, a party 
principal in the case to be adjudicated. 

And now, if I may for one moment further beg the 
patient indulgence of Your High Mightinesses, I recur 


to the language of His Excellency Sir Joseph Yorke, 
wherein, to fortify, apparently, his contention that 

I am "a rebellious subject and state criminal," he 
declares that I am not only " the pirate Paul Jones," 
but also that I am "a Scotchman." 

Candor compels me, may it please Your High 
Mightinesses, to admit that this last, alone of all Sir 
Joseph's allegations, is true and indisputable. But 
while admitting the truth of Sir Joseph's assertion of 
my Scottish birth, I deny the validity of his inference 
made plain by his context. That, under the circum- 
stances now being considered, the fact of Scottish 
birth should be held to constitute the character of a 

II rebellious subject and state criminal," more than 
birth elsewhere within the dominions of the King of 
Great Britain, I do not conceive to be a tenable theory. 
It cannot have escaped the attention of Your High 
Mightinesses that every man now giving fealty to the 
cause of American Independence was born a British 
subject. I do not comprehend, nor can I conceive, 
a difference in this respect between birth as a British 
subject in Scotland and birth as a British subject 
in Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New England, 
or elsewhere on British soil, there being in the eyes 
of British law no difference between the soil of the 
parent realm and the soil of colonies in respect to the 
relations or the rights of the subject. 

If the reasoning of Sir Joseph Yorke be sound, then 
General Washington, Dr. Franklin, and all other 
patriots of birth on the soil of America when a British 
colony, must be, equally with me, " state criminals." 
No formal proclamation has been made to that effect, 
within my knowledge, by due authority of the King 
and his Ministers. Whatever may be the impression 
of exigency, it is clear that the Government of His 
Britannic Majesty has not yet undertaken to proclaim 
wholesale outlawry against nearly three millions of 
people in America now in arms for the cause of 
Independence. Such proclamation seems to have 
been reserved for my especial honour, in a port of a 
neutral state, and on the ipse dixit of an ambassador 
without express authority from Crown, Ministers, or 
Commons. It is inconceivable that so unauthorized 
a proceeding can have weight or that so unexampled 


an exception can prevail with the reason of so judicial 
3 i?7 y u aS u the Assembl y of Y our High Mightinesses. 

With these humble representations I confidently 
re P° s< r trust in the traditional candor and in the 
infallible justice of the High and Mighty Lords of the 
btates General of the Netherlands. 

(Signed) Paul Jones, 

~ „ . , TT Captain U. S. Navy. 

On Board the U. S. Ship Serapis, ^ 

November 4, 1779. 

This must have been the letter of which Horace 
Walpole wrote to the Countess of Ossory on October 
i, 1782: " Have you seen in the papers the excellent 
letter of Paul Jones to Sir Joseph Yorke. Elle nous 
dit bien des verites. I doubt Sir Joseph can answer them. 
Dr. Franklin himself, I should think, was the author! 
It was certainly written by a first-rate pen. . . ." It 
is true that the letter was not written to Sir Joseph 
Yorke, but was addressed to the States General. But 
it was a direct reply to two letters which Sir Joseph 
Yorke had, as Jones knew, addressed to the States 
General concerning the legality of Jones's commission 
and the international status of his flag, and it might 
very well have been loosely designated by Walpole 
as " the letter of Paul Jones to Sir Joseph Yorke." 
Jones left the Texel before the end of 1779, and by 
that time his indirect controversy with Sir Joseph 
Yorke was at an end. He is not likely to have 
addressed that diplomatist on any public matter at 
any subsequent date, and indeed there does not seem 
to be extant any letter of any kind addressed by 
Paul Jones to Sir Joseph Yorke at any date. On 
the other hand the letter to the States General was 
published in an English Blue Book in 1782, shortly 
before the date of Walpole's letter to Lady Ossory, 
together with other official correspondence relating 
to the rupture between England and Holland, which 
took place at the end of 1780. If this was the letter 
in question, however, Walpole is clearly wrong in 
attributing its composition to Franklin. It is dated 


November 4, and it refers to a memorial addressed 
by Sir Joseph Yorke to the States General on 
October 29. Between these dates there was no time 
for a copy of this memorial to have reached Franklin 
in Paris and for Franklin to have drafted a reply to 
it and sent it to Jones at the Texel. Besides, Franklin 
did not entirely approve of the line taken by Jones 
in this matter. 

It is thus certain that Franklin had no hand in the 
letter to the States General ; and even if this is not 
the letter so highly commended by Horace Walpole, 
it is at any rate a document which no one can 
read without acknowledging that " it is certainly 
written by a first-rate pen." Jones was in a very 
difficult, not to say a very equivocal, diplomatic 
position. He had no diplomatic authority, he could 
not afford to offend France, nor would Franklin have 
sanctioned any action of his that was likely to do so. 
There were influences at work in France which were 
by no means friendly to him, and were in fact so 
potent that they ultimately succeeded in enforcing 
the claim of the French Government to the Serapis. 
He had therefore to be very circumspect in that direc- 
tion. On the other hand, so far as he had any voice 
in the matter, it was manifestly quite impossible for 
him to acquiesce for a single moment in the demand 
of Sir Joseph Yorke that he should be treated by 
the States General " as a rebel and a pirate." He 
could not expect to persuade the States General to 
recognize the United States as an independent 
sovereign power. They had so far declined to do 
so, and were not at all disposed to incur the enmity 
of England by doing it at this juncture. But he did 
hope to induce them to show equal discretion towards 
France by declining to treat as a rebel and a pirate 
a man who had sailed from a French port with the 
sanction of the French Government and with French 
officers under his command ; and he knew that if he 
did so induce them, the relations between Holland 


and England, already none too friendly, would be, 
as he wished them to be, still further embittered. 
This hope was not disappointed. After a! long debate 
on the question raised by Sir Joseph Yorke, the 
States General, on November 19, passed a resolution 
declaring: 1. That they "decline to consider any 
question affecting the legality of Paul Jones's com- 
mission or his status as a person." 2. That it is "not 
their intention to do anything from which it might 
lawfully be inferred that they recognize the indepen- 
dence of the American Colonies." 3. " That ... it 
shall be signified to Paul Jones, that, having put in 
to place his injured vessels in shelter from the dangers 
of the sea ... he shall make sail as soon as possible 
when the wind and weather shall be favourable, 
and withdraw from this country." 

Thus, by the first clause of this resolution, the only 
question to which Jones had addressed himself in 
his letter to the States General was decided practically 
in his favour and to the complete discomfiture of 
Sir Joseph Yorke, who in one of his communications 
to the States General had pompously declared that 
u the eyes of all Europe are on your resolution." 
The second clause merely left the situation in statu 
quo, and astute as his diplomacy was, Jones could 
hardly have expected that unaided he could do that 
which the combined diplomacy of France and the 
United States had failed to do, namely, induce 
Holland to " recognize the independence of the 
American Colonies." But though the status quo was 
unchanged in appearance, the refusal of the States 
General to treat Jones as a rebel and a pirate did so 
far alter the situation that within little more than 
a year England declared war against Holland on 
December 20, 1780, alleging as the chief among the 
causes of the war " that in violation of treaty the 
States General suffered an American Pirate (one 
Paul Jones, a Rebel and State Criminal) to remain 
several weeks in one of their ports ; and even per- 


mitted a part of his crew to mount guard (with arms 
and munitions, under his authority) in one of their Forts 
in the Texel." As to embroil Holland and England 
was, rightly or wrongly, one of the main objects 
which Jones avowedly aimed at, this result too must 
be set down to the credit of his diplomatic address. 
He also succeeded in attaining this object without 
putting any additional strain on the relations of 
Holland with the United States. As to the third 
clause of the resolution of the States General, though 
it was stringent and even peremptory in terms, it was 
not very stringently enforced. Jones remained at the 
Texel, undisturbed, for more than a month after the 
States General had formally decreed his expulsion. 
There must have been considerable complaisance on 
the part of the Dutch executive authorities to enable 
him to do this. An English squadron was cruising 
outside the Texel, intent on his capture whenever 
the Dutch should thrust him out. They allowed him 
to wait until an easterly gale had driven this squadron 
off the coast, and when he did leave he got away 

In truth he had still much to do before he could 
leave the Texel. The question of what to do with 
the prisoners was still unsettled, as was also that of 
the status of his flag. The action of the French 
Government, which Franklin did not and Jones could 
not resist, ultimately settled both, though as regards 
the flag in a manner very mortifying to Jones, and, 
as he contended, without a shadow of right. An 
attempt was first made to evade the difficulty by 
giving Jones a commission in the French Navy, and 
authorizing him to hoist the French flag in the Serapis 
in token of his right, thus acquired, to command the 
squadron without further question. But Jones flatly 
declined to be a party to this transaction. It would, 
he contended, completely stultify the argument he 
had addressed to the States General in reply to Sir 
Joseph Yorke, and he pointed out that " on his arrival 


in the Texel he had publicly declared himself an 
officer of the United States of America; that he was 
not authorized by his Government to receive the 
proffered commission ; and that he conceived, more- 
over, that, under existing circumstances, it would be 
dishonourable to himself and disadvantageous to 
America to change his flag." He was prepared to 
allow Cottineau to hoist the French flag in the Pallas, 
the Vengeance, and the Countess of Scarborough, which 
was the prize of the former. But the Serapis, which 
was his own prize, and the Alliance, which was an 
American ship built and commissioned in America, 
he insisted on retaining under his own command and 
under the American flag. But de Sartine, the French 
Minister of Marine, was inexorable as regards the 
Serapis, prompted, as Jones believed, by Le Ray de 
Chaumont, the French Commissary of the squadron, 
who desired to have the fingering of the prize-money. 
Franklin, perhaps nolens volens, was fain to support 
de Sartine, and Jones had to give way. He was left, 
as he said, to do what he pleased or what he could 
with the Alliance. 

On the other hand, the solution of the difficulty as 
regards the prisoners was far more satisfactory. The 
French Government, when it took over the ships, also 
took over the custody of the prisoners. They were 
formally handed over to the French Ambassador at 
the Hague, and placed on board the ships which by 
the same authority now hoisted the French flag, 
namely the Serapis, the Pallas, the Vengeance, and 
the Countess of Scarborough. These ships then 
left the Texel under convoy of the Dutch fleet. At 
an earlier date Franklin had written to Jones : " I 
am uneasy about your prisoners, and wish they were 
safe in France ; you will then have completed the 
glorious work of giving liberty to all the Americans 
that have so long languished for it in the British 
prisons, for there are not so many there as you have 
now taken." When their safety was assured, Jones 


wrote to Le Ray de Chaumont : " It is the greatest 
triumph which a good man can boast — a thousand times 
more flattering to me than victory." Let those scoff at 
this who will as turgid and insincere. For my part 
I prefer the more generous appreciation of Disraeli, 
who writes as follows concerning the general attitude 
of Jones on this question : 

These prisoners were Jones's great pride. Early 
in life his feelings had been excited by the description 
of the sufferings of his countrymen who were im- 
prisoned in the mother country. His objects in 
removing the war to Europe were mainly to retaliate 
on the English for the scenes of havoc he had 
witnessed in " the country of his fond election " and 
to deliver the imprisoned Americans from their 
dungeons. On his arrival in France, intent upon this 
grand purpose, Jones met with a congenial spirit in 
the most illustrious of the American Commissioners. 
Franklin, that mighty master of the human mind, soon 
dived into the innermost recesses of Jones's soul. 
He was struck with his daring courage, his manly 
frankness, and his enthusiastic sentiments. He per- 
ceived him bold in purpose, systematic in conception, 
and firm in execution. The wily politician smiled at 
the chivalric and romantic sentiments of his youthful 
friend ; but the practical philosopher felt, that to 
perform extraordinary actions, a man must often 
entertain extraordinary sentiments, and that in the 
busiest scenes of human life enthusiasm is not always 
vain, nor romance always a fable. 

Jones was now left alone at the Texel with the 
Alliance, still flying the American flag, to do what 
he pleased or what he could with. Sir Joseph Yorke 
was baffled, though if he was no match for Jones in 
diplomacy, he was, to do him justice, equally anxious 
for the well-being of the wounded prisoners, and 
even co-operated with Jones in securing for them 
suitable housing together with proper medical care 
and comforts. Jones met him once at the house of 
Van Berckel, the Grand Pensionary. They maintained 



a ceremonious courtesy towards each other, but soon 
came to a friendly understanding concerning supplies 
for the prisoners. Sir Joseph offered to obtain these 
supplies and consign them to Jones himself; but 
Jones warily declined this proposal, " for fear," as he 
frankly told Sir Joseph, " that malicious enemies 
might accuse me of appropriating them," and he re- 
quested that they might be consigned to Dr. Edgerly, 
the late surgeon of the Countess of Scarborough. "Two 
days later," says Jones, " Sir Joseph sent by a hoy 
from Amsterdam a goodly supply of medicines, 
blankets, food, tobacco, with considerable wine and 
some liquors. And with the consignment of these 
articles to Dr. Edgerly, as I had requested, he sent 
also a private letter to that gentleman, requesting him 
to inform me that if, as he (Sir Joseph) suspected, 
the wounded Americans might also be in need of 
such supplies as he had sent, they should have an 
impartial share ; ' because,' said Sir Joseph in his 
letter to Dr. Edgerly, ' we all know that old England 
can never tell the difference between friends and foes 
among brave men wounded in battle, even if some 
of them may, peradventure, be rebels.' " It is pleasant 
to record these courtesies between two such antagon- 
ists. Even Sir Joseph Yorke, it would seem, could 
not resist the charm of Jones's personal fascination. 

The Dutch authorities at the Texel do not seem to 
have been in any hurry to enforce the order of the 
States General for Jones's expulsion from that anchor- 
age. That order was, as we have seen, sanctioned by 
the States General on November 19. But it was not 
until December 26 that the Alliance finally took her 
departure. No attempt seems to have been made to 
thrust her out at a time when she could hardly avoid 
falling into the clutches of the British squadron 
cruising outside. On the contrary, she was allowed to 
wait until an easterly gale which arose on Christmas 
Day had driven the squadron quite off the coast, leaving 
only one or two frigates behind. The wind abated 


the next day, and Jones, seizing the opportunity while 
the coast was clear, put to sea about 10 p.m. and, 
eluding the vigilance of the British frigates still on 
the watch for him, shaped a course for the Straits of 
Dover. " He now," says Nathaniel Fanning, " ran 
through the Straits of Dover and down the English 
Channel, passing close enough in to fire a shot at the 
Channel Fleet anchored off Spithead, and then cruised 
as far south as Corunna, where he remained two 
weeks, watering and victualling his ship. Spain being 
at that time at war with England, the Alliance was 
most cordially received, and the civilities of the town 
were exhausted in entertaining Commodore Jones and 
his officers. . . . On January 28, 1780, having refitted, 
watered, and victualled the Alliance, Jones sailed 
from Corunna for L'Orient." Here he anchored on 
February 14. Except when he returned to America 
in the Ariel — which he did in December 1780 — he never 
hoisted the United States flag at sea again, though he 
lived until 1792, dying in Paris on July 18 in that year, 
at the age of forty-five. 


Here then ends the active career of Paul Jones as a 
fighting seaman, and here ends my story. The rest 
is merely epilogue. It is true that Jones subsequently 
took service in the Russian Navy at the invitation 
of the Empress Catherine, who gave him the rank of 
Rear-Admiral, and afterwards promoted him to that 
of Vice-Admiral. But this episode in his life affords 
little additional material for the appreciation of his 
quality as a great sea-officer. He commanded a 
Russian squadron in the Liman at the time of the 
siege of Oezakoff in 1788, and in the engagement 
known as the Battle of the Liman on June 17 in that 
year, he inflicted a severe defeat on the Turkish fleet. 
But he was very treacherously served by Nassau- 
Siegen, who commanded a flotilla of gunboats nomi- 


nally under his orders, and the laurels of his victory 
were filched away from him by Potemkin, who pre- 
sented to the Empress a fabricated report of the 
engagement, in which Jones's services were ignored. 
Alike in the Liman and at St. Petersburg he was made 
the object of incessant and unscrupulous intrigues 
which finally drove him out of the Russian service. 
Suwaroff alone appreciated him and stood his constant 
friend. If it be held that he demeaned himself by 
taking mercenary service under the Russian flag, the 
argument can only be sustained by condemning at 
the same time the large number of British naval 
officers at that time serving in the Russian Navy, 
many of whom did not disdain to take part in the 
intrigues against him, while others more honourably, 
but not less ungenerously, resigned their commissions 
sooner than accept him as a comrade. He withdrew 
from Russia broken in health and, for a time, blasted 
in reputation. But his fair fame was subsequently 
vindicated by the efforts of his friend the Comte de 
Segur, the French Ambassador at St. Petersburg. I 
extract from the pages of Disraeli the following letter 
from Segur to the French Ministers at Berlin and 
Hamburg : 

St. Petersburg, 26th August, 1789. 

The Vice-Admiral Paul Jones, who will have 
the honour to deliver this letter, commanded during 
the last campaign a Russian squadron stationed on the 
Liman. The Empress has decorated him on this occa- 
sion, with the order of St. Anne. He had a right, by 
his actions, to a promotion and to a recompense, but 
this celebrated sailor, knowing better how to conduct 
himself in battles than in courts, has offended, by his 
frankness, some of the most powerful people, and 
amongst others Prince Potemkin. His enemies and 
his rivals have profited by his momentary disgrace to 
hasten his destruction. Calumny has served their 
purposes ; they have given credit to reports absolutely 
false. They have accused him of violating a girl. 
The Empress, being deceived, has forbid him the 


court, and wished to bring him to trial. Every per- 
son has abandoned him ; I alone have upheld and 
defended him. The country to which he belongs, the 
order of military merit which he bears, and which he 
has so nobly acquired, his brilliant reputation, and, 
above all, our long acquaintance, have made it a law 
to me. My cares have not been in vain. I have 
caused his innocence to be acknowledged. He has 
repaired to court, and has kissed the hand of the 
sovereign, but he will not remain in a country where 
he believes himself to have been treated with in- 
justice. ... I beg you, Sir, to render to this brave 
man, as interesting by the reverses of fortune which 
he has met with as by his past success, every service 
which may be in your power. It will lay me under a 
true obligation, and I shall share, in a lively manner, 
his gratitude. 

It is no part of my purpose to portray what I may 
call the civil career of Paul Jones, except so far as 
it has incidentally served to illustrate his character 
and the estimation in which he was held by some 
of the most distinguished of his contemporaries in 
two hemispheres. My sole object has been to 
draw a faithful portrait of his career as a fighting 
seaman, and that purpose has now been fulfilled. I 
have shown him rising from the village school and 
the hard apprenticeship of the merchant service to 
the command of ships and the inherited ownership of 
a plantation in Virginia. I have shown him equipping 
himself, during that hard apprenticeship and its subse- 
quent arduous voyagings, with manners and education 
which afterwards enabled him to shine in the most 
fastidious society in Europe. I have shown him 
taking his side in a quarrel which divided brother 
from brother in both hemispheres, and I have no 
apology to offer for his choice. I should as soon 
think of apologizing for Washington or for Franklin. 
I have shown him founding an infant navy and laying 
down imperishable principles for the governance and 
guidance of its officers. I have shown him teaching 


his comrades how to fight in their own waters, and 
how to carry the war, even with their diminutive 
resources, into the enemy's waters with tremendous 
and unexampled effect. I have shown him waging 
one of the most desperate battles that ever were fought 
on the seas, and snatching victory out of the very 
jaws of defeat by his own unquenchable stubbornness 
of fight and in spite of the treachery, fully attested 
and almost openly avowed, of his principal lieutenant. 
I have shown him waging and winning, not less 
brilliantly, a diplomatic battle, if not single-handed, 
at any rate with little countenance and no assistance 
at all from the accredited representatives of the two 
Governments he served. If these achievements and 
accomplishments are not the notes of a personality 
cast in truly heroic mould, I know not where to 
look for them, nor can I refuse to recognize them 
because Paul Jones had to the full some of the most 
characteristic defects of his qualities — an inordinate 
self-esteem, a propensity for grandiloquence, and a 
very manifest reluctance to hide his candle under 
a bushel. Let us remember that Nelson himself was 
not without like defects, and that the impression made 
on the cold and dispassionate Wellington by the only 
talk he ever had with him was that, until Nelson 
found out who Wellington was, " the conversation 
was almost all on his side and all about himself, 
and in, really, a style so vain and so silly as to 
surprise and almost disgust me." There are many 
Englishmen who have never carried their acquaint- 
ance with Paul Jones and his character any further 
than this initial stage of Wellington's memorable 
interview with Nelson. If I have enabled even a few 
of them to reconsider their original impression, as 
Wellington did his, I shall not have written in vain. 

I need hardly say that the foregoing comparison 
implies no sort of pretence to place Paul Jones on 
a level with Nelson as a sea-commander. To do so 
would be preposterous. " There is but one Nelson," 


and Jones's lack of opportunity would forbid the 
comparison, if nothing else did. Except in the Liman 
Jones never commanded a fleet in action, and no man 
knew better than he did that the highest sea-capacity 
is neither displayed nor called for in the conflict of 
single ships. I find in Disraeli some very significant 
extracts from a memorandum on this subject which 
he addressed to the United States Government in 
1782, while he was superintending the fitting out of 
the America, the first line of battleship ever built by 
the United States. 1 I subjoin these extracts here : 

The beginning of our navy, as navies now rank, 
was so singularly small, that, I am of opinion, it has 
no precedent in history. Was it a proof of madness 
in the first corps of sea-officers to have, at so critical 
a period, launched out on the ocean with only two 
armed merchant ships, two armed brigantines, and 
one armed sloop, to make war against such a power 
as Great Britain ? To be diffident is not always a 
proof of ignorance. I had sailed before this revolu- 
tion in armed ships and frigates, yet, when I came 
to try my skill, I am not ashamed to own I did not 
find myself perfect in the duties of a first lieutenant. 
If midnight study and the instruction of the greatest 
and most learned sea-officers, can have given me 
advantages, I am not without them. I confess, how- 
ever, I have yet to learn ; it is the work of many years' 
study and experience to acquire the high degree of 
science necessary for a great sea-officer. Cruising after 
merchant ships, the service in which our frigates have 
generally been employed, affords, I may say, no part 
of the knowledge necessary for conducting fleets and 
their operations. There is now, perhaps, as much 
difference between a battle between two ships, and 
an engagement between two fleets, as there is between 
a duel and a ranged battle between two armies. The 

1 Jones was to have commanded this vessel ; but during the 
autumn of 1782 a French man-of-war was lost in the harbour of 
Boston, and Congress passed a resolution presenting the America 
to the King of France in place of the Magnifique which was lost, 
and she passed into the French Navy under the name of the 


English, who boast so much of their navy, never 
fought a ranged battle on the ocean before the war 
that is now ended. The battle off Ushant was, on 
their part, like their former ones, irregular ; and 
Admiral Keppell could only justify himself by the 
example of Hawke in our remembrance, and of Russel 
in the last century. From that moment the English 
were forced to study, and to imitate, the French in 
their evolutions. They never gained any advantage 
when they had to do with equal force, and the 
unfortunate defeat of Count de Grasse was owing 
more to the unfavourable circumstances of the wind 
coming a-head four points at the beginning of the 
battle, which put his fleet into the order of echiquier 
when it was too late to tack, and of calm and currents 
afterwards, which brought on an entire disorder, than 
to the admiralship or even the vast superiority of 
Rodney, who had forty sail of the line against thirty, 
and five three-deckers against one. By the account 
of some of the French officers, Rodney might as well 
have been asleep, not having made a second signal 
during the battle, so that every captain did as he 

The English are very deficient in signals, as well 
as in naval tactics. This I know, having in my 
possession their present fighting and sailing in- 
structions, which comprehend all their signals and 
evolutions. Lord Howe has, indeed, made some 
improvements by borrowing from the French. But, 
Kempenfelt, who seems to have been a more promising 
officer, had made a still greater improvement by the 
same means. It was said of Kempenfelt, when he was 
drowned in the Royal George, England had lost her 
du Pavillion. That great man, the Chevalier du 
Pavillion, commanded the Triumphant, and was killed 
in the last battle of Count de Grasse. France lost in 
him one of her greatest naval tacticians, and a man 
who had, besides, the honour (in 1773) to invent the 
new system of naval signals, by which sixteen hundred 
orders, questions, answers, and informations can, 
without confusion or misconstruction, and with the 
greatest celerity, be communicated through a great 
fleet. It was his fixed opinion that a smaller number 
of signals would be insufficient. A captain of the line 


at this day must be a tactician. A captain of a 
cruising frigate may make shift without ever having 
heard of naval tactics. Until I arrived in France, and 
became acquainted with that great tactician Count 
D'Orvilliers, and his judicious assistant the Chevalier 
du Pavillion, who, each of them, honoured me with 
instructions respecting the science of governing the 
operations, etc., of a fleet, I confess I was not sensible 
how ignorant I had been, before that time, of naval 

There are several points of extreme interest in 
this remarkable memorandum. When Jones says 
that " the English . . . never fought a ranged battle 
on the ocean before the war that is now ended," he is 
moving by anticipation in the same order of ideas 
as that which inspired Clerk of Eldin in his famous 
Essay on Naval Tactics, which was printed in the 
same year but not published until later. Clerk's exor- 
dium, which was written in 1781, is as follows : 

Upon inquiring into the transactions of the British 
Navy, during the last two wars, as well as the present, 
it is remarkable that, when single ships have en- 
countered one another, or when two, or even three 
have been engaged of a side, British seamen, if not 
victorious on every occasion, have never failed to 
exhibit instances of skilful seamanship, intrepidity, and 
perseverance ; yet when ten, twenty, or thirty great 
ships have been assembled, and formed in line of 
battle, it is equally remarkable that, in no one 
instance, has ever a proper exertion been made, 
anything memorable achieved, or even a ship lost or 
won on either side. 1 

Again, Jones's reference to Howe and Kempenfelt 
exhibits an acquaintance with the contemporary history 

1 Clerk, in a note, explains that " neither the gallant manoeuvres off 
St. Christopher's, nor the memorable 12th of April, took place till 
the spring following." These two actions are of course Hood's 
brilliant encounter with De Grasse in January 1782, and Rodney's 
famous victory over the same French Admiral off Dominica on April 
12, 1782. 


of the British Navy and with the special attainments 
of two of its leading personalities — one of whom is 
now almost forgotten except for his tragic and un- 
timely death — which is little short of amazing in a man 
with his limited opportunities of study and observa- 
tion. In truth he might well say, " If midnight study 
and the instruction of the greatest and most learned 
sea-officers can have given me advantages, I am not 
without them." I will cite further testimony to the 
profundity and acumen of his studies of naval 
warfare from the pages of Mr. Buell. It relates to 
the time when Jones, in command of the Ranger \ first 
put into Brest just before his raid upon Whitehaven : 

The Duchess of Chartres instantly took a fancy 
to the dark, slender, distingue " Chevalier, sans titre, 
de la mer," — "the untitled knight of the sea," as she 
used to call him : and Paul Jones at once became a 
welcome visitor at her cottage-palace at Brest. The 
afternoon before the Ranger sailed, the Duchess gave 
a luncheon to Captain Jones, at which the Count 
D'Orvilliers was present. The Duchess was grand- 
daughter of the Count de Toulouse, son of Louis XIV., 
by Madame de Montespan; and her grandfather 
had commanded the French fleet in the great battle 
with the allied English and Dutch fleets off Malaga, 
August 24 and 25, 1704. 

That battle was, up to that time, the most creditable, 
or, perhaps, least discreditable, to the French Navy, 
of all its encounters with the fleets of England ; and 
the Duchess took infinite pride in the exploit of her 
ancestor. In some way the subject of the battle off 
Malaga was brought up at this luncheon. Jones, 
whose studies of naval history fully equipped him for 
the discussion, made bold to traverse a criticism 
offered by D'Orvilliers on the failure of de Toulouse 
to follow the Anglo-Dutch fleets under Sir George 
Rooke when they retreated towards Gibraltar after 
two days' fighting. In this debate, Jones, who took 
the side of de Toulouse, displayed knowledge of the 
strategy and tactics of that great combat which 
challenged the admiration of D'Orvilliers himself, as 
well as that of all the other French officers present. 


In the course of his review of the event, he showed 
that he knew to a ship, to a gun, and almost to a man, 
the strength of the respective fleets. He also exhibited 
comprehensive knowledge of the grand strategy of 
the campaign as a whole, and an accurate understand- 
ing of the political bearing of the operations upon the 
dynastic questions involved in the war of the Spanish 
succession. This amazed D'Orvilliers, who had pre- 
viously regarded him with a sort of patronizing 
interest as a Yankee skipper of something more than 
usual dash and cleverness. 

But my final and most convincing testimony is 
still to be cited. It is contained in a letter addressed 
by Paul Jones in 1791, the year before his death, to 
his friend Vice-Admiral the Comte de Kersaint, one of 
the most distinguished French naval officers of his 
time. I quote it as it is given by Mr. Buell. If 
I call this letter an epitome of the teaching of Clerk 
of Eldin at the end of the eighteenth century and of 
that of Captain Mahan at the end of the nineteenth, 
I hardly think I shall over-estimate its extraordinary 
penetration, sagacity, and breadth of view. It runs as 
follows : 

It has not been my habit to indulge in comment 
upon French naval tactics as I have read of them 
in history or observed them in the last war. But 
my long and happy personal acquaintance with your 
Excellency, dating from our first accidental meeting 
in the Chesapeake in 1775, emboldens me to offer 
a few observations of a character that I have hitherto 

I have noticed — and no reader of the naval history 
of France can have failed to notice it — that the under- 
lying principle of operation and rule of action in 
the French Navy have always been calculated to 
subordinate immediate or instant opportunities to 
ulterior if not distant objects. In general I may say 
that it has been the policy of French admirals in the 
past to neutralize the power of their adversaries, if 
possible, by grand manoeuvres rather than to destroy 
it by grand attacks. 


A case in point of this kind is the campaign of 
the Count de Grasse in his conjoint operation with 
the land forces of General Washington and the Count 
de Rochambeau, which so happily resulted in the 
capitulation of Cornwallis at Yorktown. It is well- 
known to you, as an officer of important command 
in the French fleet on that occasion, that for at least 
three days — that is to say, from the moment when 
Admiral Graves appeared off the Capes (of the Chesa- 
peake) until he beat his final retreat to New York — 
it was in the power of the Count de Grasse to bring 
him to close and decisive action with a superiority 
of force that could have left no doubt as to the 
issue. It is true, as may be said, that the ulterior 
object of the grand strategy in that operation, viewed 
by land as well as by sea, was accomplished by 
the skilful manoeuvring, the imposing demonstration, 
and the distant cannonade practised by the Count de 
Grasse, without determined attack or persistent pur- 
suit. It may be also urged — which I have heard 
from the Marquis de Vaudreuil and the Chevalier 
de Barras — that de Grasse was hampered in this 
respect by the nature of his agreement with de 
Rochambeau, approved by Washington, that it should 
be the policy to preserve the French fleet from the 
contingencies of close action, so far as might be 
done without sacrificing its efficiency in the adjunc- 
tory sense to the operations by land. 

Yet, admitting all this in full force, it has always 
seemed to me that there was a moment when the 
— perhaps unexpected — development of weakness and 
incertitude on the part of Admiral Graves afforded 
de Grasse abundant justification for revision if not 
momentary discarding of the terms of any prior 
understanding he may have had with de Rochambeau 
and Washington. De Grasse had more ships, more 
men, and more guns than Graves had. His ships 
were better found and sailed faster, either ship for 
ship, or measuring the manoeuvring power of the 
fleet by the slowest or dullest of all, than the ships 
of Graves. In my judgment, there has never been 
an occasion in all the naval wars between France 
and England when the opportunity was so distinctly 
and so overwhelmingly on the side of France as in 


those few October days in 1781, off the Capes of 
the Chesapeake — when France actually had, for the 
moment, command of the sea. 

Now, my dear Kersaint, you know me too well to 
accuse me of self-vaunting. You will not consider me 
vain, in view of your knowledge of what happened in 
the past ofTCarrickfergus, of! Old Flamboro' Head, and 
off the Liman in the Black Sea, if I say that, had I 
stood — fortunately or unfortunately— in the shoes of 
de Grasse, there would have been disaster to some 
one off the Capes of the Chesapeake ; disaster of more 
lasting significance than an orderly retreat of a beaten 
fleet to a safe port. To put it a little more strongly, 
there was a moment when the chance to destroy the 
enemy's fleet would have driven from me all thought 
of the conjoint strategy of the campaign as a whole. 

I could not have helped it. 

And I have never since ceased to mourn the failure 
of the Count de Grasse to be as imprudent as I 
could not have helped being on that grandest of all 

Howbeit, as I have already said, the object of grand 
strategy in that operation was accomplished by the 
manoeuvring of the Count de Grasse without general 
action-in-line. But I confess that under similar condi- 
tions the temptation to destroy as well as repulse 
the fleet of the enemy would have been resistless, 
had I been the commander. It would have cost 
more men and perhaps a ship or two ; but, in my 
opinion, success in naval warfare is measured more 
perfectly by the extent to which you can capture or 
sink the ships and kill the seamen of the enemy than 
by the promptness with which you can force him, 
by skilful manoeuvre or distant cannonade, to sheer 
off and thereby, with your consent, avoid a conflict 
that could hardly result otherwise than in conquest 
for you and destruction to him. 

It is recorded that, in battle some years ago, when 
the English Guards and the French Guards came in 
contact, one said to the other, " Gentlemen, fire first, 
if you please." Chivalrous as that may appear in 
history, I frankly confess that it represents an 
imagination of the amenities of warfare which I not 
only do not entertain but which I cannot conceive of. 


The year after the operations of the Count de 
Grasse off the Capes, I was cruising in the West 
Indies, having the honour to be the guest of the 
Marquis de Vaudreuil on board his flag-ship, the 
Triomphante, and I offered for his consideration some 
reflections similar to the above. I am happy to say, 
that the noble Marquis did not disagree with me. 
And I am sure that, had the noble Marquis on that 
occasion enjoyed opportunity to bring to action the 
fleet of Admiral Pigott before it was reinforced by 
the other division just at the moment peace was 
proclaimed, other tactics would have been pursued. . . . 

You will by no means infer from these cursory 
observations that I fail to appreciate, within my 
limited capacity, the grandeur of the tactical com- 
binations, the skill of the intricate manoeuvres, and 
the far-sighted, long thought-out demonstrations by 
which the Count de Toulouse drove Rooke out of 
the Mediterranean in August 1704, with no more ado 
than the comparatively bloodless battle off Malaga ; 
or the address with which La Galissoniere repulsed 
Byng from Minorca in 1756 by a long-range battle 
of which the only notable casualty was the subsequent 
execution of Byng by his own Government for the 
alleged crime of failing to destroy the fleet opposed 
to him ! or the brilliant campaign of my noble friend, 
the Count D'Orvilliers, off Ushant in July 1778, when 
he forced Keppel to retreat ignominously to England ; 
not by stress of defeat, but by the cunningly planned 
and adroitly executed expedient of avoiding, on any 
terms but his own, the battle which Keppel vainly 
tried to force upon him. Let me assure you that none 
of these great events has been lost upon my sense of 

Most impressive to me of all the triumphs of the 
French Navy is the matchless signal-system of the 
great Pavilion, with the portentous secrets of which 
I had the honour of being the first foreign officer 
to be entrusted when the full code was placed in 
my hands by D'Orvilliers in person, on the eve of 
my sailing from Brest in the little Ranger, April 1778. 

And yet, my dear Kersaint, one reflection persecutes 
me, to mar all my memories and baffle all my admira- 
tion. This is the undeniable fact that the English 


ships and English sailors whom La Galissoniere 
manoeuvred away from Minorca, under Byng, in 1756, 
remained intact and lived to ruin Conflans in Quiberon 
Bay three years later under Sir Edward Hawke ; and 
the ships and seamen of Graves, whom de Grasse per- 
mitted to escape from his clutches off the Capes of 
the Chesapeake in October 1781, were left intact, 
and lived to discomfit de Grasse himself off Santa 
Lucia and Dominica in April 1782, under Rodney. 

You know, of course, my dear Kersaint, that my 
own opportunities in naval warfare have been but 
few and feeble in comparison with such as I have 
mentioned. But I do not doubt your ready agree- 
ment with me if I say that the hostile ships and 
commanders that I have thus far enjoyed the oppor- 
tunity of meeting, did not give any one much trouble 
thereafter. True, this has been on a small scale ; 
but that was no fault of mine. I did my best with 
the weapons given to me. The rules of conduct, the 
maxims of action, and the tactical instincts that serve 
to gain small victories may always be expanded into 
the winning of great ones with suitable opportunity ; 
because in human affairs the sources of success are 
ever to be found in the fountains of quick resolve 
and swift stroke ; and it seems to be a law inflexible 
and inexorable that he who will not risk cannot win. 

Thus, from my point of view, it has been the be- 
setting weakness of French naval tactics to consider 
the evolutions of certain masters of the art of naval 
warfare as the art itself. Their evolutions, as such, 
have been magnificent ; their combinations have been 
superb ; but as I look at them, they have not been 
harmful enough ; they have not been calculated to do 
as much capturing or sinking of ships, and as much 
crippling or killing of seamen, as true and lasting 
success in naval warfare seems to me to demand. 

This may be a rude — even a cruel — view ; but 1 
cannot help it. The French tactical system partakes 
of the gentle chivalry of the French people. On the 
wave as on the field of honour, they wish, as it were, 
to wound with the delicate and polished rapier, rather 
than kill with the clumsy — you may say the brutal — 
pistol. I frankly — or if so be it humbly — confess that 
my fibre is not fine enough to realize that conception. 


To me war is the sternest and the gloomiest of all 
human realities, and battle the cruelest and most 
forbidding of all human practices. Therefore I think 
that the true duty of every one concerned in them is 
to make them most destructive while they last, in 
order that the cause of real humanity may be gained 
by making them soonest ended. 1 have never been 
able to contemplate with composure the theory of the 
purely defensive in naval tactics. With all due 
respect to the sensibilities of Frenchmen I make bold 
to say that better models of action are to be found 
in Hawke at Quiberon Bay, and in Rodney off Santa 
Lucia and Dominica than in de Grasse, either when 
successful in the Chesapeake or when beaten in the 
West Indies. . . . 

But, my friend, I fear that I weary you. Let me 
thank you again for your compliments and kind 
wishes. I hope that France, in her struggle for liberty, 
may, as America did, find use for me, no matter in 
what capacity or what grade of my profession — from 
a sloop-of-war to a fleet — on the high seas. But, 
should France thus honour me, it must be with the 
unqualified understanding that I am not to be restricted 
by the traditions of her naval tactics ; but with full 
consent that I may, on suitable occasion, to be decreed 
by my judgment on the spot, try conclusions with 
her foes to the bitter end or to death, at shorter range 
and at closer quarters than have hitherto been sanc- 
tioned by her tactical authorities. 

Nelson's favourite signal in action was, it will be 
remembered, " Engage the enemy more closely." 1 In 
like manner it was Paul Jones's fixed aspiration and 
resolve that if he was ever called upon to carry the 

1 The device on the cover of this volume shows, in heraldic 
symbolism, the flags used by Nelson in making this signal at his 
three great battles of the Nile, Copenhagen, and Trafalgar. The 
meaning of the signal was the same in each case, but it so happens 
that the flags denoting it were changed between 1798 and 1801, and 
again between 1801 and 1805. Full information on the subject will 
be found in a very interesting official publication, entitled Nelson's 
Signals : The Evolutio?i of the Signal Flags, written by the Admiralty 
Librarian, and issued by the Naval Intelligence Department under 
the authority of the Admiralty. 


flag of France into a fleet action, it would only be on 
the unqualified understanding " that I may, on suitable 
occasion, to be decreed by my judgment on the spot, 
try conclusions with her foes to the bitter end or to 
death, at shorter range and at closer quarters than 
have hitherto been sanctioned by her tactical authori- 
ties." That is the very spirit of Nelson. Napoleon, 
with his unerring insight, saw this and said : " Our 
admirals are always talking about pelagic conditions 
and ulterior objects, as if there was any condition or 
any object in war except to get in contact with the 
enemy and destroy him. That was Paul Jones's view 
of the conditions and objects of naval warfare. It was 
also Nelson's." Is it too much to say, on the strength 
of these testimonies, that had his opportunities been 
equal to those of Nelson, Paul Jones might have shown 
that he was cast in the same mould ? At any rate 
no one can blame the American people if they think 
so, and none can gainsay them. 




IT will best serve the purpose of the following 
paper — which is in no sense to discuss the affair 
of the Dogger Bank controversially from an inter- 
national point of view, but only to point its moral 
for future guidance and warning — to accept the con- 
clusions of the International Commission of Inquiry 
and to state the facts, as far as possible, in the 
language of its report. The French text of the 
report will be quoted where necessary. 

While anchored at the Skaw, and indeed previously 
since the departure of the fleet under his command 
from Reval, Admiral Rozhdestvensky had received 
" nombreuses informations des Agents du Gouverne- 
ment Imperial au sujet de tentatives hostiles a redouter, 
et qui, selon toutes vraisemblances, devaient se pro- 
duire sous la forme d'attaques de torpilleurs ; en outre 
pendant son sejour a Skagen, l'Amiral Rojdestvensky 
avait ete averti de la presence de batiments suspects 
sur la cote de Norwege." One of his transports coming 
from the north also reported having seen four torpedo 
craft exhibiting only a single masthead light. This 
information naturally induced the Commander-in- 
Chief to take every possible precaution for the pro- 
tection of the ships under his command against torpedo 
attack. He left the Skaw twenty-four hours earlier 
than he originally intended, sending off his fleet in 
six separate " echelons," his own echelon, consisting 
of the battleships Suvarqff, Alexander III, Borodino, 

1 Naval Annual, 1905. 



and Orel and the transport Anadyr, leaving last at 
10 p.m. on October 20. The two leading echelons 
were ordered to steam at twelve knots, and the 
remainder at ten. The course prescribed appears to 
have led close to the Dogger Bank, well known to 
all pilots and mariners as a place where fishing vessels 
of many nations are likely to be met with in large 
numbers. This is not the direct course from the Skaw 
to the English Channel, but an Admiral having any 
reason to expect a torpedo attack would naturally 
avoid the course on which his assailants would be 
most likely to look for him. On the other hand, a 
navigator who sets his course so as to pass near the 
Dogger Bank must be assumed to know that he will 
find there a large assemblage of fishing craft. 

One of the echelons, preceding that under the 
Admiral's immediate command, consisted of the trans- 
port Kamchatka, escorted by the cruisers Dmitri 
Donskoi and Aurora. Owing to " une avarie de 
machine," the Kamchatka fell astern, while her escort- 
ing cruisers went on at the prescribed speed, with 
the result that by 8 p.m. on October 21 she was some 
fifty miles astern of the rear echelon of the fleet. 
In this position she met the Swedish vessel Aldebaran 
and several other craft, and, mistaking them for torpedo 
craft, she opened fire upon them, sending a wireless 
message to the Commander-in-Chief at 8.45 to the 
effect that she was " attaque de tous cotes par des 
torpilleurs." This message was duly received by 
Admiral Rozhdestvensky, and naturally put him still 
more on the alert, inducing him " a signaler a ses 
batiments vers 10 heures du soir de redoubler de 
vigilance et de s'attendre a une attaque de torpilleurs." 
The significance of this warning would be emphasized 
by the fact that the Commander-in-Chief had previously 
issued a standing order whereby each " officier chef 
de quart" had been authorized "a ouvrir le feu dans le 
cas d'une attaque evidente et imminente de torpilleurs. 
Si l'attaque venait de Favant il devait le faire de sa 


propre initiative, et, dans le cas contraire, beaucoup 
moins pressant, il devait en referer a son Com- 
mandant." A majority of the Commissioners con- 
sidered that, having regard to all the circumstances, 
there was nothing excessive in these orders. 

The Kamchatka having reported herself as some fifty 
miles astern, when she believed herself to be attacked 
between 8 and 9 p.m., Admiral Rozhdestvensky might 
very well calculate that the torpedo craft reported by 
her would overtake his own squadron about 1 a.m. on 
the following morning, October 21. His course was 
south-westerly, and this brought him towards that 
hour into close proximity to the Dogger Bank and 
its fishing craft. There were some thirty vessels 
there, spread over a space of several miles, and the 
Commissioners state, without reserve, that all the 
vessels " portaient leurs feux reglementaires et cha- 
lutaient conformement a leurs regies usuelles, sous 
la conduite de leur maitre de peche, suivant les in- 
dications de fusees conventionelles." Of the preceding 
echelons which had passed near them, none had 
reported by wireless telegraphy anything suspicious 
or unusual in their proceedings, and in particular 
Admiral Folkersahm, who had passed with his 
echelon to the northward of them, had examined 
them closely with his searchlights, " et, les ayant 
reconnus ainsi pour des batiments inoffensifs, continua 
tranquillement sa route." Shortly after Admiral 
Folkersahm had passed, the last echelon arrived 
in the neighbourhood of the fishing fleet. " La route 
de cet echelon le conduisait a peu pres sur le gros de 
la flottille des chalutiers, qu'il allait done etre oblige 
de contourner, mais dans le sud." This would seem 
to imply that instead of passing round the fishing 
fleet on the north, as Admiral Folkersahm had done, 
Admiral Rozhdestvensky found that his course would 
take him " sur le gros de la flottille," and would have 
altered course accordingly to the southward, so as to 
leave the flotilla on his starboard hand, but for a series 


of occurrences which at the moment began to arrest 
his attention, and apparently induced him to keep his 
course and pass through the flotilla, though more to 
the southward than the northward. He would there- 
fore have fishing-boats both to port and to starboard 
of him throughout the subsequent proceedings. By 
the first of these occurrences— the firing of a green 
rocket, to wit — the already tense apprehension of the 
officers on the bridge of the flagship was still further 
quickened. Such an occurrence in such circumstances 
might well seem to wear an aspect of menace to officers 
who were at the moment on the look-out for an imme- 
diate attack by torpedo craft ; but in reality this fatal 
rocket was merely the regular signal by which the 
admiral of the fishing fleet indicated to his consorts 
that they were to shoot their trawls to starboard. 

Very shortly after the display of this alarming but 
wholly innocent signal the officers of the Suvaroff, 
eagerly scanning the horizon through their night 
glasses, discerned " sur la crete des lames dans la 
direction du bossoir a tribord " — that is, over the 
starboard cathead— "et a une distance de 18 a 20 
encablures un batiment qui leur parut suspect parce 
qu'ils ne lui voyaient aucun feu et que ce batiment leur 
semblaient se dinger vers eux a contrebord." This is 
their own deposition. Twenty cables are 4,000 yards, 
or two nautical miles. The extreme beam of the 
largest torpedo craft is less than 24 feet or 8 yards, 
and the vessel now entering on the scene is reported 
to have been advancing end on " a contre-bord." The 
Commissioners report that at the time " la nuit etait 
a demi obscure, un peu voilee par une brume legere 
et basse." To have discovered so small an object at 
so great a distance on such a night reflects infinite 
credit on the vigilance of the discoverers and their 
keenness of vision, but it also shows that they could 
not well have overlooked such of the fishing boats as 
were nearer to them, and were all carrying their 
regulation lights. Anyhow, " lorsque le navire suspect 


fut eclaire par un projecteur les observateurs crurent 
reconnaitre un torpilleur a grande allure." The speed 
of the Suvarqff was ten knots. " Grande allure " for 
a torpedo craft advancing to the attack can hardly be 
put at less than twenty knots. The two craft were 
thus approaching each other at the rate of thirty knots 
— that is, a nautical mile in every two minutes. As 
they were only two nautical miles apart when the 
" navire suspect " was first sighted, they would be 
abreast of each other in four minutes. All who have 
any practical experience of the use of the searchlight 
in such circumstances must acknowledge that it was 
handled with consummate skill by the officers of the 
Suvaroff on this occasion, but at the same time they 
will draw the irresistible inference that the speed 
of the advancing vessel must have served to differ- 
entiate it absolutely from any of the fishing craft in 
its neighbourhood. Be this as it may, the Com- 
missioners go on to say, " C'est d'apres ces apparences 
que l'Amiral Rojdestvensky fit ouvrir le feu sur ce 
navire inconnu " ; and to this they append the following 
comment : " La majorite des Commissaires exprime a 
ce sujet l'opinion que la responsabilite de cet acte 
et les resultats de la cannonade essuyee par la 
flottillede pecheincombent a l'Amiral Rojdestvensky." 

Almost immediately fire was opened a small vessel 
was observed right ahead of the Suvaroff, and so 
close that course had to be altered to port to avoid 
her. Illuminated by a searchlight this vessel was 
seen to be a trawler. Accordingly, " pour empecher 
que le tir des vaisseaux fut dirige sur ce batiment 
inoffensif, l'axe du projecteur fut aussitot releve a 45 
vers le ciel" — this being apparently a signal pre- 
concerted for the purpose. " Ensuite l'Amiral fit 
adresser par signal a l'escadre l'ordre de ne pas tirer 
sur les chalutiers." 

It may not here be amiss to recapitulate the suc- 
cession of events, all of which must have taken place 
within four minutes, if the suspicious vessel which 


caused the Suvaroff to open fire was steaming at 
twenty knots, while two minutes more at the same 
speed would have taken her astern of the whole 
squadron. These are, — (1) discovery of a suspicious 
vessel on the starboard bow at a distance of eighteen 
or twenty cables ; (2) her recognition by means of 
the searchlight as a torpedo craft steaming at high 
speed ; (3) order given to open fire on her ; (4) dis- 
covery of a small vessel right ahead of the Suvaroff) 

(5) course altered to port in order to avoid her ; 

(6) her recognition as a trawler by means of the 
searchlight ; (7) signal made not to fire on the trawlers. 
The outside allowance of time within which all these 
things must have happened is from seven to eight 
minutes, even if the speed of the suspicious vessel 
was not more than fifteen knots, and at the end of 
that period the vessel in question must have been 
well astern of the rear ship of the Russian line, having 
towards the close of it passed the latter on its star- 
board side, and therefore between it and such vessels 
of the fishing fleet as were situated to the north- 
ward. It would have been little short of a miracle 
in the circumstances for all the vessels of the fishing 
fleet so situated to have escaped injury, however 
unintentionally inflicted ; and as the fire of the Russian 
squadron lasted, according to the Commissioners, 
from ten to twelve minutes, it would seem that the 
conclusion at which a majority of them arrived can 
hardly be seriously disputed : " La duree du tir a 
tribord, meme en se placant au point de vue Russe, 
a semble a la majorite des Commissaires avoir ete 
plus longue qu'elle ne paraissait necessaire." There 
is nothing to show that any order was given by the 
Admiral to fire on any vessel other than that which 
originally aroused his suspicions and caused him to 
open fire. It does not appear that any other 
suspicious vessel was observed on the starboard hand. 
The suspicious vessel in question must, as we have 
seen — " d'apres les depositions des temoins," to borrow 


a convenient phrase of the Commissioners — have 
passed well astern of the Russian line in less than 
eight minutes. Yet the fire was continued for ten or 
twelve minutes in all. Unless, therefore, the Russian 
ships were firing entirely at random — as they easily 
might have been, for the thing has been done over 
and over again in manoeuvres — they must have been 
firing, however unwittingly and unintentionally, at 
the unoffending trawlers on their starboard hand and 
at nothing else. 

What the suspicious vessel was the Commissioners 
do not attempt to determine. The Aurora was 
certainly hit several times in the course of the firing. 
But beyond suggesting that the Aurora, steaming 
in the same direction as the fleet and showing no 
lights astern, may have been the vessel which originally 
aroused suspicion on board the Suvaroff and induced 
Admiral Rozhdestvensky to open fire, the Commis- 
sioners were apparently unable to ascertain where 
she was or how she came there. The Dmitri Donskoi 
was also present, since her identification by the 
Commander-in-Chief after she had made her number, 
induced the latter to make a general signal to cease 
fire. But the precise position of the Dmitri Donskoi, 
whether to port or starboard of the Russian line, is not 
determined by the Commissioners. It only remains 
to add at this stage of the narrative that if the 
conjecture of the Commissioners that the Aurora was 
the suspicious vessel in question is well founded, 
and if as they also suggest she was steaming in the 
same direction as the fleet, her relative bearing and 
distance could not have changed materially, so that 
the original belief of the Commander-in-Chief and 
his staff that the suspicious vessel was a torpedo 
craft steaming towards the fleet " a contrebord," and 
" a grande allure," must have been promptly dis- 
allowed by the event. In that case the continuance 
of the starboard firing for ten or twelve minutes 
becomes more incomprehensible than ever. 


So much for the starboard firing. The cause of 
the firing to port is even more obscure. Just as 
the trawler above-mentioned was discerned right 
ahead of the Suvaroff and course was altered in 
order to avoid her, " les observateurs du Suvaroff 
apercurent a babord un autre batiment qui leur 
parut suspect, a cause de ses apparences de meme 
nature de celle de l'objectif du tir par tribord. Le 
feu fut aussitot ouvert sur ce deuxieme but et se 
trouva ainsi engage des deux bords." It is here 
stated by the Commissioners that, according to the 
standing orders previously issued to the squadron, 
" l'amiral indiquait les buts sur lesquels devait £tre 
dirige le tir des vaisseaux en fixant sur eux ses 
projecteurs." Every one who has any practical ex- 
perience of torpedo operations will recognize at once 
that such a method of indication is exceedingly vague 
and very apt to be misleading, even when the search- 
lights are worked from the flagship alone. If other 
ships in company are working their searchlights more 
or less at random at the same time confusion and 
misunderstanding are inevitable ; at least, such is the 
opinion of the Commissioners, and no naval officer 
will dispute it. " Mais comme chaque vaisseau balayait 
l'horizon en tout sens autour de lui avec ses propres 
projecteurs pour se garer d'une surprise, il etait difficile 
qu'il ne se produisit pas de confusion." In this con- 
fusion, either by sheer accident or through a mistake, 
quite intelligible and far from inexcusable in the 
circumstances, the majority of the injuries sustained 
by the trawlers would seem to have been inflicted. 
It is clear that Admiral Rozhdestvensky personally 
did all he could from first to last to prevent the fire 
of his squadron being directed on any of the trawlers 
distinctly recognized as such, and the Commissioners 
record their unanimous opinion to this effect. But 
had he been an angel from heaven his efforts must 
have been unavailing in the situation as described 
by the Commissioners. 


The majority of the latter declare that the starboard 
fire was, in their judgment, unduly prolonged. They 
hesitate to record the same opinion regarding the 
firing to port, on the ground that their information 
on the subject was insufficient, and it must be 
acknowledged that on this and several other points 
the Russian case was allowed to go by default. None 
of the logs of any of the ships engaged were produced. 
The Russian witnesses were few, and their testimony 
threw little light on the more obscure aspects of the 
situation. Nevertheless a majority of the Commis- 
sioners recorded their conclusion in no ambiguous 
terms : " La majorite des Commissaires constate 
qu'elle manque d'elements precis pour reconnaitre sur 
quel but ont tire les vaisseaux, mais les Commissaires 
reconnaissent unanimement que les bateaux de la 
flottille n'ont commis aucun acte hostile ; et la majorite 
des Commissaires etant d'opinion qu'il n'y avait, ni 
parmi les chalutiers, ni sur les lieux aucun torpilleur, 
l'ouverture du feu par l'Amiral Rojdestvensky n'etait 
pas justifiable." This opinion, however, was not shared 
by the Russian Commissioner, who, on the contrary, 
recorded his opinion " que ce sont precisement les bati- 
ments suspects s'approchant de l'escadre dans un but 
hostile qui ont provoque le feu." The two conclusions 
are not irreconcilable. The majority of the Com- 
missioners content themselves with recording the fact 
that no torpedo craft was present. The Russian 
Commissioner does not appear to dispute this, but 
contends that the approach of " batiments suspects " 
sufficed to justify the Russian flagship in opening 
fire. It will be seen in the sequel that his view is 
not wholly without justification from the history of 

The order to cease fire was given as soon as the 
Dmitri Donskoi was identified by Admiral Rozhdest- 
vensky, and then " la file des vaisseaux continua sa 
route et disparut dans le sud-ouest sans avoir stoppe." 
The fact that they did not stop to ascertain what damage 


had been done, and to render such assistance as might 
be required by the innocent victims of the cannonade, 
was naturally criticized in many quarters. But the 
Commissioners exonerate Admiral Rozhdestvensky 
on this point : " Les Commissaires sont unanimes 
a reconnaitre, qu'apres les circonstances qui ont 
precede l'incident et celles qui Font produit, il y 
avait a la fin du tir assez d'incertitudes au sujet du 
danger que courait l'echelon des vaisseaux pour decider 
l'Amiral a continuer sa route." Notwithstanding this, 
however, the majority of the Commissioners express 
their regret that Admiral Rozhdestvensky " n'alt pas 
eu la preoccupation, en franchissant le Pas de Calais, 
d'informer les autorites des Puissances maritimes 
voisines qu'ayant ete amene a ouvrir le feu pres d'un 
groupe de chalutiers, ces bateaux, de nationalite 
inconnue, avaient besoin de secours." Though this 
regret was not unanimous at the Commission it will 
hardly find a dissentient elsewhere. The stern and 
urgent necessities of war may, as the Commissioners 
acknowledge, take precedence of the claims of humanity 
at the moment of conflict. They cannot excuse or 
even extenuate indifference to those claims after the 
emergency is past. 

Finally, the Commissioners declare " que leurs 
appreciations . . . ne sont pas dans leur esprit de 
nature a jeter aucune deconsideration sur la valeur 
militaire ni sur les sentiments d'humanite de l'Amiral 
Rojdestvensky et du personnel de son escadre." If 
my purpose were controversial this conclusion, ap- 
parently so inconsistent with the previous findings, 
might invite some criticism. But the Commission 
was neither a judicial tribunal nor a diplomatic 
conference. It combined some of the characteristics 
of both. Its abnormal composition is reflected in 
the several paragraphs of its report. On essential 
points judgment is given against Admiral Rozhdest- 
vensky. The trawlers are exonerated altogether. 
Their conduct was unimpeachable throughout. There 


was nothing in it to arouse a shadow of suspicion. 
The responsibility for opening fire and for all that 
ensued is thrown upon Admiral Rozhdestvensky. 
There were no torpedo craft " ni parmi les chalutiers 
ni sur les lieux." Admiral Rozhdestvensky was not, 
therefore, justified in opening fire. Even on his own 
showing the starboard fire was unduly prolonged. As 
to the firing to port, the evidence produced — by no 
means all that might have been produced — is insufficient 
to sustain a similar conclusion, so that " not proven " 
is here the verdict rather than " not guilty." Admiral 
Rozhdestvensky did all he could to prevent injury 
to fishing-boats, but in the confusion caused by his 
opening fire without adequate justification his efforts 
were unavailing. He was not called upon to stop 
in the midst of what he regarded as imminent danger, 
but he was called upon to report the incident to the 
Powers interested at the earliest possible moment. 
These are the judicial aspects of the Commission's 
finding. Then diplomacy steps in and seeks to soothe 
military and national susceptibilities by declaring that 
Admiral Rozhdestvensky's " valeur militaire " is un- 
impaired, and his " sentiments d'humanite " unim- 
peachable. Those who are best qualified to appreciate 
the full weight of the judicial censure will probably 
be the last to demur to the diplomatic gloss. 

Now, the problem which still awaits solution is 
to determine what it was that first provoked the 
Russian fire. It cannot have been the fishing fleet — 
that is quite clear. When Admiral Rozhdestvensky 
set his course so as to pass close to the Dogger Bank, 
he must have known that at that point he would 
probably come across a large assemblage of trawlers. 
The green rocket may well have puzzled him, but 
it should not have made him see torpedo craft or other 
hostile vessels where there were none to be seen. 
The majority of the Commissioners record their 
conviction that no torpedo craft were there, The 
Russian Commissioner, on the other hand, stoutly 


adhered to his conviction " que ce sont precisement 
les batiments suspects s'approchant de l'escadre qui 
ont provoque le feu." The Dmitri Donskoi and the 
Aurora do not answer to this description, because 
the only way in which the Commissioners attempted 
to explain the Aurora's being mistaken " par une 
illusion d'optique nocturne" for torpedo craft, was 
by supposing that she was not " s'approchant de 
l'escadre " but steaming in the same direction. 

Yet the presence of any torpedo craft other than 
Russian is absolutely excluded by the evidence laid 
before the Commissioners. The absence of Russian 
torpedo craft on the other hand seems rather to have 
been taken for granted than established by positive 
evidence. Their presence is highly improbable, no 
doubt, but not perhaps more improbable a priori than 
the presence of the Dmitri Donskoi and the Aurora, 
which must have been wholly unexpected by Admiral 
Rozhdestvensky, or he would not have fired on them. 
If, then, the possible, albeit unavowed, presence of 
Russian torpedo craft is not excluded by any 
of the positive evidence presented, it would furnish 
an hypothesis which explains more of the facts than 
any other yet suggested, and goes far to reconcile the 
view taken by the Russian Commissioner with that 
taken by his colleagues. It is difficult to say why, 
if Russian torpedo craft were present, their presence 
should not have been acknowledged ; but it is not 
more easy to explain the persistent economy of 
evidence in the presentation of the Russian case — 
an economy which baffled the majority of the Com- 
missioners and provoked comments scarcely to be 
distinguished from remonstrances. 

If this hypothesis could be entertained the whole 
incident would be explained. Admiral Rozhdestvensky, 
having discovered two torpedo boats, opened fire on 
them before they were seen to be his own, and in the 
confusion that ensued the other ships fired on anything 
they could see, and continued their fire for several 


minutes after they ought to have realized that they were 
firing on unoffending fishing craft. No other hypothesis 
so completely vindicates the " valeur militaire " of the 
personnel of the Russian squadron, nor can any other 
be suggested which does not bring the judicial findings 
of the Commission into somewhat sharp conflict with 
its diplomatic conclusion. 

Passing now from the judicial, diplomatic, and 
naval aspects of the case, we have next to consider 
its psychological aspects. How was it that the 
Russian Admiral and his officers were brought into a 
state of mind which predisposed them to make a 
mistake so deplorable in its nature, and so terrible 
in its consequences ? That they did make a mistake 
is beyond all question. It was a mistake if they fired 
on the Aurora and Dmitri Donskoi. It was a mistake 
if they fired on their own torpedo craft. It was a 
mistake if they fired on nothing at all. It was the 
worst mistake of all if they fired on the fishing boats 
believing them to be torpedo craft. Whatever its 
nature, then, this mistake requires explanation. In 
the first place there were the " nombreuses informations 
des Agents du Gouvernement Imperial." The weight 
attached to this information reflects little credit on the 
Russian Naval Intelligence Department. Admiral 
Rozhdestvensky was bound of course to give due 
heed to information received from official or other 
well-authenticated sources. But the Russian Naval 
Intelligence Department must have known, as every 
other Naval Intelligence Department knew, or might 
have known, that there were no Japanese torpedo 
craft in European waters. The information received 
by Admiral Rozhdestvensky is not stated to have 
come from the Russian Admiralty. It came from 
" agents of the Imperial Government." It would 
appear that the Russian Admiralty had no such in- 
formation, for if it had it is hardly conceivable that 
such information would not have been laid before the 
Commission. If it had none, the inference is that 


there was none to be had, and in that case, unless the 
Russian Naval Intelligence Department is to be re- 
garded as wholly incompetent, it might surely have 
been expected to instruct Admiral Rozhdestvensky 
that the unsifted warnings of local agents were not 
to be taken for more than they were worth — which 
must have been very little indeed. 

However, Admiral Rozhdestvensky did believe 
these warnings and made his dispositions accordingly. 
This was the first stage in the formation of the " psycho- 
logical atmosphere," which alone accounts for the 
tragedy of the Dogger Bank. An attitude of expec- 
tancy had been created even before the squadron left 
the Skaw. It was accentuated by the adventures of the 
Kamchatka, herself manifestly enveloped in the same 
psychological atmosphere. It was brought to a state 
of extreme tension by the green rocket of the fishing 
fleet. It passed into action premature, disastrous, 
and unjustifiable when the appearance of the suspicious 
vessels liberated all that pent-up expectancy and fired 
a train which had been laid many hours and perhaps 
several days before. The Russian officers saw what 
they expected to see and took action accordingly. 

What they saw is from this point of view immaterial. 
It may have been nothing at all. It may have been 
a torpedo craft, as they undoubtedly believed at the 
time, and as apparently they still believed when their 
evidence was tendered to the Commission. In that 
case it can only have been a Russian torpedo craft. It 
may have been the Aurora, as the Commissioners 
seem to suggest. It may have been a fishing boat. 
The point is that whatever it was, whether it was 
anything or nothing, it was taken for a torpedo craft 
because that was what it was expected to be. There 
is nothing at all surprising in this, and there would 
not be much fault to find with it if the fire had not 
been unjustifiably opened, unjustifiably prolonged, 
and very inadequately controlled, with the deplorable 
result now known to all the world, a result which 


cost at least three lives — one Russian and two British 
— and very nearly plunged two great nations into war. 
There are so many officers in the British Navy who 
have made the same mistake that there is probably 
no officer of any experience in the service who does 
not know how easy it is to make it, and how much 
more difficult it is to avoid it. In other words, the 
experience of British naval officers would lead them 
to assume, almost as a matter of course, that such a 
mistake was actually made by the officers of the Baltic 
Fleet, and at the same time to make every reasonable 
allowance for its being made. But to make a mistake 
is one thing. All men are liable to it. It is quite 
another thing to persist in it beyond all reason or 
precedent, and to make no such efforts to repair it as 
humanity must needs dictate, so far as they are con- 
sistent with the legitimate accomplishment of the 
military duties of a commander in time of war. The 
more ready British officers may be to make allowance 
for the original mistake the more fully will they con- 
cur in the censure passed by a majority of the Com- 
mission on the conduct of the Russian Admiral at 
subsequent stages of the proceedings. 

It will surprise many perhaps to learn that naval 
opinion in this country is quite ready to make all 
reasonable allowance for the original mistake. Yet 
it can be shown from authentic records that if, with 
the Commissioners, we set aside the hypothesis that 
hostile torpedo craft were actually present at the 
Dogger Bank on the night of October 21, there is no 
possible explanation of what occurred on that occasion 
which cannot be paralleled by what has happened 
over and over again in the course of the naval 
manoeuvres and other sea exercises of the British 
Fleet. In his evidence before the Commission 
Commander Keyes, an officer of large experience in 
the operations of torpedo craft, mentioned several 
recorded cases at manoeuvres, including, as reported 
in The Times, " one in which a flagship leading the 


Mediterranean Fleet mistook a battleship for a destroyer. 
. . . Another case occurred at the manoeuvres in 1902. 
The Doris observed through glasses what she thought 
to be a four-funnelled destroyer. The searchlight 
was directed on her, but failed to reveal anything. 
Yet in reality the boat thus taken for a destroyer was 
the four-funnelled cruiser Andromeda!' A very close 
parallel to these cases is to be found in the Naval 
Annual for 1901, where it is stated that " on one 
occasion a destroyer was said to have passed, at 
night, six friendly battleships steaming without lights, 
and to have mistaken them for torpedo boats." The 
opposite mistake, that of taking torpedo craft for 
battleships or other large craft has also been made. 
In the Naval Annual for 1900 it is recorded that 
" Admiral Domville had received circumstantial re- 
ports from the commanding officer of his destroyers 
that the A Fleet or a considerable portion of it had 
been observed during the night steering southward 
in the neighbourhood of Holyhead. It would seem 
that a flotilla of A's torpedo boats was mistaken by 
the officer in question for the main body of the A 
fleet, and reported as such to headquarters." If then 
the Russian officers mistook the Aurora for a torpedo 
craft they are not without justification in the records 
of British manoeuvres. Even if they mistook nothing 
at all for a torpedo craft the same justification may be 
pleaded. In the Naval Annual for 1892 the official 
report on the manoeuvres of 1891 is cited for a remark 
of Captain, now Admiral, Durnford on " the extra- 
ordinary way people think they see torpedo boats 
when none are there." Even if they mistook fish- 
ing vessels for torpedo craft there is an approximate 
parallel to be cited. In the Naval Annual for 1901 
I myself recorded the incident as follows : 

The Minerva, scouting off the west coast of Ireland, 
got amongst a fleet of fishing boats off the Skelligs, 
on the night of July 27. Mistaking them for torpedo- 
boats and remaining among them for some hours, she 



persuaded herself that she must have been torpedoed, 
and loyally hoisting the " Blue Peter "—the signal 
for being out of action — she proceeded quietly to 
Milford, there to await the decision of the umpires. 
As no torpedo boats were, nor, under Admiral Rawson's 
orders, could have been engaged, the decision was 
naturally given in her favour. . . . Such an incident 
could not, of course, happen in war, but, even in war, 
cruisers which mistake fishing boats for torpedo-boats 
are likely to meet with strange adventures. 

Lastly, if, as has been suggested above, the Russians 
fired on their own torpedo craft, this is an incident of 
no infrequent occurrence in manoeuvres, British and 
foreign. A French incident may be cited. In the 
Naval Annual for 1894 it is related that " the Isly 
came in sight and the Turco" — a "torpilleur de haute 
mer" — " was sent ahead to communicate with her ; 
but not being recognized by the Furieux and the 
£pervier } the Turco was fired on by these vessels. About 
the same time a friendly torpedo-boat was fired on by the 
Buffle, in spite of the private signals displayed by the 
former." The latter instance is an extreme case, 
perhaps ; but it shows, at any rate, how easy it is to 
make the mistake in question, even in circumstances 
which might be expected to render such a mistake 
almost impossible. Manoeuvres are not war, of course, 
nor should the analogy be pressed unduly. In manoeu- 
vres there is a definite field of operations prescribed, 
and within that field, and more especially at certain 
positions, designated beforehand by the strategic and 
tactical characteristics of the area, every ship on both 
sides knows that it must be on the look out for torpedo 
attack. Here the psychological atmosphere which 
generates a state of acute mental expectancy must 
needs exist, and may easily lead to mistakes which, 
if not excusable, are at least intelligible. But if in 
manoeuvres an admiral were to go outside the manoeuvre 
area to a position where the probable presence of 
fishing vessels in large numbers was a matter of 


maritime notoriety, he would hardly be entitled to 
plead the psychological atmosphere and its con- 
comitant state of expectancy as a valid and sufficient 
excuse for any mistake that he made in consequence. 
Now the analogy of the Dogger Bank incident is in 
large measure of this latter character. The actual 
theatre of war was thousands of miles away. The 
presence of hostile torpedo craft was so improbable in 
the circumstances, that the suspicion of it should never 
have been allowed to take so firm a hold as it did on 
the minds of Admiral Rozhdestvensky and his officers. 
On the other hand, the presence of innocent fishing 
boats was almost a certainty. It is the duty of a naval 
officer who knows his business to weigh these alter- 
native probabilities, and to draw a sound conclusion 
from them. It would seem that Admiral Folkersahm 
did this, while Admiral Rozhdestvensky did exactly 
the reverse. 

Nevertheless, the significance of the whole story 
and the lessons it has to teach, belong rather to the 
future than to the past. Whatever may be the value 
of the torpedo in war — a question not relevant to the 
present discussion — there can be no doubt that the 
torpedo craft is a weapon of such tremendous and 
peculiar menace that it creates a psychological atmo- 
sphere of its own. In the case of Admiral Rozhdest- 
vensky and his officers, it was able to create that 
atmosphere at the distance of nearly half the globe. 
Such a remarkable case of action at a distance is not 
perhaps likely to be repeated. But when the two 
belligerents are separated by no greater distance than, 
to avoid indiscreet analogies, let us say that which in 
ancient warfare separated the Romans from the 
Carthaginians, the experience of the Dogger Bank is 
not at all unlikely to be repeated, unless its lessons are 
taken seriously and learnt betimes. Two things are 
almost certain. Innocent vessels will often be mis- 
taken for torpedo craft, and torpedo craft will always 
be fired on at sight. About the latter proposition 


there seems to be no sort of doubt. In the Naval 
Annual for 1896 Captain Bacon — one of the highest 
authorities on torpedo warfare in the Navy — wrote 
as follows : 

The danger to the country is so great, if boats are 
allowed to rove about without definite orders, that too 
much stress cannot be laid on the following points. 
The boat ... is of no value compared with the ship, 
and therefore the onus of sinking a friendly ship 
should lie entirely on the boat. A boat at night is a 
pariah to every ship afloat. ... A ship should always 
fire on any boat — whether suspected of being a friend 
or an enemy — that approaches her at night, since it is 
far better to sink a friendly boat than risk losing a ship 
by mistaking the identity of an enemy's boat. Since, 
therefore, every ship should fire on every approaching 
boat, no boat should take the fact of a ship firing on 
her as evidence that she is an enemy. The only safe 
way yet known of conducting an attack on a doubtful 
ship is for the boat to challenge the ship by a signal- 
ling method, and to allow a reasonably safe time for 
reply. The time occupied in approaching will ordinarily 
be sufficient, so that no real delay is caused to the 
boat. ... A procedure such as the above cannot be 
too strongly insisted on if boats are to be used with 
safety in waters where both enemy's and friendly ships 
may be met with. Moreover, a torpedo attack should 
be a deliberate attack. 

This, then, is the rationale of torpedo attack and 
defence, as formulated by one of the highest authorities 
on the subject in our own naval service. Captain 
Bacon, however, is only an individual, it may be ob- 
jected, and the official theory may be different. The 
official theory is identical. In the Naval Annual for 
1903 it is related how, during manoeuvres in the 
Mediterranean, the Implacable was attacked by a 
destroyer of her own side, and the official narrative of 
the operations is cited as remarking, " it is most un- 
likely that this would have happened in war, for the 
destroyer, which was in sight long before she attacked, 
would have been fired on without waiting to ascertain 


whether she was friend or foe." It is clear, then, that 
Captain Bacon's views cannot be denied the authority 
of official sanction. It may thus be taken for granted 
that in war all torpedo craft will be fired on at sight 
unless they have previously disclosed their identity. 
It follows that if a friendly torpedo craft is not to be 
spared, except on terms with which a neutral cannot 
comply, a neutral torpedo craft will fare still worse. 
A neutral torpedo craft, however, has clearly no 
business to be there at all. If she sights a belligerent 
fleet, the best thing she can do is to show it a clean 
pair of heels at once. Nothing on earth can save 
her if she once allows herself to be caught within the 
range of belligerent fire. In the abstract, of course, 
she has just as much right to use the sea as any other 
vessel that floats. In like manner a husbandman has 
every right to till his fields, if he chooses, under the 
fire of two contending armies. But if he is killed it 
is his own fault. 

So far, then, there is no great difficulty. The neutral 
torpedo craft must take her chance. She has no 
business to be there intentionally, and if she is there 
by accident, she must do her best not to be there as 
soon as possible. But the neutral trading vessel, 
whether fishing boat or larger craft, stands on quite a 
different footing. In the clash of war she is innocent, 
defenceless, and helpless, and yet experience shows 
that she runs a very appreciable risk of being mistaken 
for a torpedo craft, and, as such, of being fired on at 
sight. How is this to be prevented ? If Dogger 
Bank incidents were likely to become common, the 
situation would be rendered intolerable to a neutral 
Power possessing a large mercantile marine and a 
navy adequate to its protection. It must be made 
clear to the belligerent that he cannot make with im- 
punity such disastrous mistakes as Admiral Rozh- 
destvensky made at the Dogger Bank, that it is safer 
for him to run the risk of a not very probable torpedo 
attack than by making a mistake to incur the much 


more probable, and much more serious risk, of having 
the fleets of a powerful neutral added to the fleets of 
an adversary with whom he is already at war. In 
other words, the commander of a belligerent fleet or 
ship must show the real quality of his M valeur 
militaire." He must not allow his military judgment 
to be sophisticated by a psychological atmosphere 
mainly of his own creation. The right of firing on a 
torpedo craft at sight carries with it the correlative 
duty of not mistaking an innocent vessel for a torpedo 
craft. Such a mistake may occasionally be made in 
circumstances which go far to excuse it ; but such 
circumstances must needs be very rare, and were 
not to be found, in the judgment of the Commission, 
in the situation at the Dogger Bank. " A torpedo 
attack," says Captain Bacon, " should be a deliberate 
attack." The defence against such an attack must be 
equally circumspect. The psychological atmosphere 
must be distrusted, the state of expectancy must 
be controlled. The sea is the common highway 
of peaceful commerce and industry. The belligerent 
commander must never forget this, nor allow him- 
self to open fire on whatever looks like a torpedo 
craft on a dark night without waiting to ascertain 
whether what he is attacking is a furtive and 
insidious assailant or only a flock of defenceless and 
unoffending sheep, such as Quixote mistook for the 
troops of " the infidel, Alifanfaron of Taprobana." If 
he acts in this heedless fashion, he discredits his own 
11 valeur militaire," and runs the risk of turning 
neutrals, wholly against their will, into his country's 
enemies. These are lessons which it behoves all 
maritime Powers to learn. It was because Admiral 
Rozhdestvensky had not learnt them that innocent 
lives were sacrificed on the Dogger Bank, and the 
world was brought within a hair's breadth of almost 
universal war. 


"TTI 7AR," said Napoleon, "is an affair of posi- 
VV tions." This is especially true of naval 
war. It is the principle which governs the conflict 
of fleets, and it determines their distribution. The 
essence of all naval warfare will be found to consist 
in the effort of each belligerent to interrupt the 
maritime communications of the other and to secure 
his own. When either belligerent has succeeded in 
establishing a complete and unassailable control over 
the maritime communications of his adversary, and 
has thereby obtained complete security for his own, 
the object of naval warfare is attained. There is 
nothing more for the victorious fleet to do except 
to hold what it has won ; and that is comparatively 
easy, because the situation supposed implies that 
the enemy no longer possesses any naval force which 
is capable of challenging its hold. The history of 
naval warfare is an almost unbroken succession of 
illustrations of this broad principle, and there is no 
illustration of it more impressive, more instructive, 
nor more conclusive than the great naval campaign 
which ended at Trafalgar. Trafalgar was the closing 
scene of the long maritime struggle between England 
and Napoleon. It put an end once for all to Napoleon's 
plans for the invasion of England, and it opened the 
way for the great counter-stroke against him in the 
Peninsula which ended at last in his overthrow. 

It is only another way of stating the same broad 
principle, to say that naval warfare is essentially a 
struggle for the command of the sea. Command of 

1 The United Service Magazine, October 1905. 


the sea means the control, absolute and unassailable, 
of the enemy's maritime communications, and it means 
nothing else. Meaning that, it means everything that 
naval warfare, as such, can attain. In the case of an 
island, it means that such an island cannot be invaded, 
starved out, or otherwise injured from the sea so long 
as its sea defence is unimpaired. In the case of two 
Powers not possessing a common frontier, it means 
that neither can assail the other without first making 
its communications across the sea secure. The Crimea, 
for example, could never have been invaded if the 
Russian fleet had been able to " impeach " the fleets 
of England and France upon the seas. Had the naval 
resources of Russia been sufficient to enable her to 
try conclusions with England and France upon the 
seas, the armies of England and France could not have 
been landed in the Crimea until the naval issue had 
been decided, nor could they even have been transported 
to Varna. 

Now England, being an island, can only be assailed 
from the sea. The British Empire, being an assem- 
blage of far-flung possessions, acknowledging a common 
sovereignty and separated from the seat of that sover- 
eignty and from each other by vast stretches of ocean 
distance, can only be held together by secure maritime 
communications. The United Kingdom, being an 
industrial and mercantile community, sending the 
products of its industry across the seas to all parts of 
the world, and receiving payment for them in food and 
other imported commodities, is the centre of a vascular 
system which is essential to its wholesome nourishment 
and even to its very existence. It has been calculated, I 
think, that the interchange of commodities between 
these islands and the parts across the seas is carried 
on without ceasing, day and night, from year-end to 
year-end, at the rate of some two tons per minute. 
The loss of the command of the sea by England, or, to 
speak more accurately, the failure to secure it in the 
event of war, would mean the suspension of this 


interchange with all its incalculable consequences. It 
means more. It means that an enemy who by depriv- 
ing this country of the command of the sea — which we 
must hold if we are to exist — had established the 
security of his own maritime communications, could 
invade this country with just as many troops as he 
could equip, transport, land, and maintain, choosing 
his own point of descent, and taking care so to choose 
it as to take our defensive forces on land at the 
greatest possible disadvantage. It means more again. 
It means that the Empire would be destroyed by the 
total severance of the only material ties which bind it 
together, the ties of communication and intercourse, as 
well as by leaving every part of it at the mercy of 
the master of its communications. 

Now, war being an affair of positions, it follows that 
he begins war best who holds the best positions at the 
outset, and that the British Empire being what it is, 
essentially a maritime empire, this country can never 
allow itself to dispense with the full advantage of 
occupying the best positions for its defence upon the 
seas. It is on this principle that the naval forces of 
Great Britain have always been distributed. In early 
times, when ships were small and their capacity for 
keeping the sea was limited, and when this country 
had few possessions and no naval stations abroad, 
naval operations of any magnitude or duration were 
of necessity confined to home waters. The great 
dockyards and naval arsenals grew up on the southern 
shores of the kingdom, partly because the ports in 
which they were established were specially convenient 
for the purpose, but still more because they were 
nearest to the shores of the enemies with whom we 
were likely to contend. Portsmouth, in mid-channel, 
not only stands over against France, but gives equal 
facility of exit through either outlet of the Channel. 
Chatham looks towards the North Sea and the coasts 
of Holland. Plymouth stands over against Brest, 
and looks across the Bay of Biscay to the coasts of 


Spain. Gradually, as the Empire expanded and 
ships became more self-supporting and more capable 
of keeping the sea during the winter, the several 
stations of the British Fleet abroad were successively 
established, each representing a more or less well- 
marked phase either of the naval history of the 
country or of the development of its maritime trade 
and other transmarine interests. If we think of the 
great battles at sea, from the battle of Sluys in 1340 
to the battle of Trafalgar in 1805, and consider them 
in relation to their geographical position, we shall 
recognize at once the significance of Napoleon's saying 
that war is an affair of positions, and perceive, as 
on a chart, the historical origin and co-ordination of 
British naval stations at home and abroad. 

These stations were determined, then, by the experi- 
ence of great wars. But practically a century and more 
has passed since our experience of great wars on the 
sea came to an end — for the Crimean War had no 
new experience of the kind to yield, because the sea 
power of England and France was so overwhelming 
in that conflict that all its battles were fought on 
land. Many things have happened during the hundred 
and more years which have elapsed since England was 
last called upon to defend her position on the seas. 
Immense changes have taken place. Ships are no 
longer propelled by sails, nor dependent on the wind 
for the direction in which they can move. They 
can now move at great speed in any direction, and 
to any point at which their presence is required. 
On the other hand, their mobility being dependent 
on a continuous supply of fuel, they are no longer 
so self-supporting as they formerly were. They can 
move faster from place to place, but they cannot go 
so far without replenishing their fuel, nor can they 
keep the sea for so long. The telegraph now links 
all parts of the earth together, reducing the time 
required for communication to a negligible quantity 
practically independent of distance, and this, combined 


with rapidity and certainty of movement, makes it 
easier to summon a ship or a squadron from the 
Channel or the Mediterranean to any part of the 
Caribbean Sea, for example, than it was a hundred 
years ago to summon them from Barbados or 
Bermuda to Jamaica. The development of wireless 
telegraphy greatly enlarges facilities of this kind. 
Above all, the balance and distribution of naval 
power throughout the world has undergone unprece- 
dented changes. For all these reasons, and others 
which might be adduced, the traditional distribution 
of the naval forces of England — a survival of the 
great war modified from time to time in detail rather 
than in principle by the growth of new interests and 
conditions— has gradually become more and more 
antiquated, and was recognized by the Admiralty a 
few years ago as in large measure obsolete. 

There are now six great naval Powers strong 
enough, actually or prospectively, to challenge the 
position of England on the seas, either singly or in 
some combination of two or more of them. These 
are France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United States, 
and Japan. In the abstract these must all be regarded 
as possible enemies, since no one can forecast the 
vicissitudes of international relations, nor the issues 
which may from time to time bring into antagonism 
or conflict nations which at this moment are full of 
friendship for each other. The friendships of nations 
are, unhappily, more precarious than those of in- 
dividuals, and we see constantly among individuals, 
and families, how the closest friendship and even 
affection may be turned to the bitterest hatred by 
misunderstanding, divergence of interest, real or 
supposed, alleged misconduct on one side or the 
other, quarrels, litigations, and conflicts. If, on the 
other hand, we consider in the concrete the existing 
relations between England and the several Powers 
enumerated, we may, and do, find differences of 
attitude and of sentiment in different cases, but we 


shall find no certain or even immediately probable 
causes of war with any one of them. Hence the 
disposition of the naval forces of this country must 
be adjusted, not to this or that contingency of war, 
whether regarded as imminent or as proximate, not 
to this exacerbation nor to that rapprochement — both 
possibly ephemeral — of international sentiment, but 
to the large and permanent conditions of the situation, 
and in this sense to all the reasonably probable 
contingencies of international conflict. By so re- 
garding the problem we get rid, once for all, of the 
idea, as mischievous as it is ill-founded, that the 
general disposition of the naval forces of England 
is based on suspicion of or antagonism to this Power 
or that. We regard all the Powers enumerated as, 
in the abstract, possible competitors, either singly or 
in conjunction, for that mastery of the seas which 
is essential to the security of the British Empire, 
and we make our dispositions accordingly, without 
prejudice to our concrete relations with any one of 
them. Every Power which means to hold its own 
does this, both on sea and on land ; and every Power 
must do it. Any Power which refrained from doing 
it might as well dispense with a Navy and an 
Army altogether. The possibility of war implies the 
necessity of preparation for war; and as war is an 
affair of positions, it also implies the occupation, 
within the limits of international right, of the positions 
which are most conducive to the successful conduct 
of such wars as are possible, however unlikely or 

One broad distinction may, however, be made. Oi 
the six Powers enumerated, four are essentially, 
though not exclusively, European Powers, while the 
other two, the United States and Japan, are extra- 
European altogether. With Japan England is in 
alliance, and so long as that alliance endures the 
disposition of England's naval forces will be in some 
measure affected by the consideration that so far from 


England and Japan being likely to meet in arms, the 
Japanese fleet may be regarded as a factor of no 
small moment in England's distribution of her forces. 
The United States will be considered separately here- 
after. Of the four European Powers, one, Italy, is 
essentially, though not quite exclusively, a Mediter- 
ranean Power. Another, Germany, is in like manner 
essentially a Northern Power. The other two, France 
and Russia, are both Northern and Mediterranean 
Powers. It is true that recent events have practically 
erased Russia for a time from the list of great naval 
Powers. But we are here dealing not so much with 
the situation of the moment as with the permanent 
geographical grouping of the European Powers, and 
we have to consider not merely the present but the 

Now, the characteristic of the four European Powers 
under consideration is that the bulk of their naval forces 
is concentrated in European waters. It follows that if 
ever we have to fight any or all of them, we shall have 
to fight them, in the first instance, in European waters. 
We shall find their fleets there, and we must fight 
them there. Where we shall find them, or whether we 
shall find them at all outside their own ports, depends 
upon the amount of force they can, either singly or 
in concert, put into the field. But if ever we are 
at war with one or more of this group of Powers, 
it will be from some European port or ports that 
their fleets will put to sea. It follows that the bulk 
of the naval forces of this country must be con- 
centrated in European waters. We must always be 
ready to wage war on two fronts, the Northern front 
and the Mediterranean front. This is a condition in- 
herent in the situation, since the naval forces of our 
possible enemies in Europe are some in the Mediter- 
ranean and the Black Sea, some in the Atlantic, the 
Channel, the North Sea, and the Baltic, while those of 
two of them, France and Russia, are by geographical 
necessity distributed between the two regions. We 


have only to think of the sites of the great sea-fights of 
modern times in relation to the situation thus defined 
to see how completely history illustrates the thesis 
here propounded — Solebay, Copenhagen, Camper- 
down, Gravelines, the Downs, Beachy Head, Cape 
La Hogue, Ushant, Quiberon Bay, the offing of Cape 
Finisterre, Cape St. Vincent, Lagos Bay, Trafalgar, 
Gibraltar, Malaga, Toulon, Minorca, the Nile. These 
names are an epitome of the naval history of England 
since the defeat of the Armada, and they show how 
regularly the stress of conflict ranges from the North 
Sea to the Mediterranean, according to the strategic 
and political distribution of naval force from time 
to time. The political connection between Spain and 
the Netherlands determined the place of the battle 
of Gravelines. The Dutch wars attracted the centre 
of strategic moment to the North Sea and the 
Channel ; the French and Spanish wars drew it back 
again to the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. It is 
idle to conjecture what political combinations the 
future may have in store. But it is certain that 
the growth of a powerful German Navy, with its 
bases on the North Sea, must have the effect of once 
more withdrawing the centre of strategic moment 
farther away from the Mediterranean, and placing it 
nearer to the waters which surround the British Isles. 
Nevertheless, the strategic importance of the Mediter- 
ranean, although diminished in some measure by recent 
changes in the balance and distribution of naval 
power, is very far indeed from being extinguished. 
The Mediterranean station has long been regarded 
as the premier station of the British Navy. It is 
so no longer, though its importance is still immense. 
The premier station is now that which comprises 
the North Sea and the Channel. This was illus- 
trated in a very significant manner towards the close 
of 1904. For a short period during the autumn, 
England and Russia were brought within measur- 
able distance of war by the Dogger Bank incident. 


France being the ally of Russia, it was not im- 
possible that, had a casus belli arisen, it might have 
involved France in the quarrel. Naval dispositions 
suitable to the occasion were made by the British 
Admiralty, but these did not involve any reinforcement 
of the British Fleet in the Mediterranean. The 
following account of what was done appeared in The 
Times of December 31, 1904 : 

Lord Charles Beresford, with the Channel (now 
called Atlantic) Fleet was ready at Gibraltar, and 
Sir Compton Domvile's ships made their way from 
Venice and Fiume to Malta. These two fleets were 
more than enough to deal with the Russians, had 
occasion arisen. But an important detail, kept very 
secret at the time, has since become known. Four 
battleships were detached from Lord Charles Beres- 
ford's fleet and sent north, the report being that they 
had gone to "shadow" the Russians at Vigo. They 
did not do so, but steamed at full speed to Portland. 
At the same time, all available submarines were sent 
to Dover, and other measures were taken not common 
in time of peace. 

It appears from this that the Home (since called 
the Channel) Fleet was concentrated at Portland, and 
heavily reinforced from Gibraltar. Its advanced guard 
of torpedo craft was placed still farther to the east- 
ward. The whole of the immediately available naval 
forces of France and Russia were well to the westward 
of these positions. Yet it is evident that the available 
British naval forces in Home waters were looking 
quite as much to the eastward as to the westward. 
This does not mean, of course, that war with Germany 
was regarded as imminent. It is not conceivable that 
Germany should have attacked this country because 
this country had protested against the action of the 
Russian Fleet at the Dogger Bank, and failing to obtain 
reparation had enforced its protest at the point of the 
sword. But it does mean that the existence of a strong 
naval Power in the North Sea — whether well-affected 


to this country or not is immaterial — is a factor in the 
general situation which this country can never, at any 
time, overlook, and must take seriously into account 
whenever war with any other naval Power seems to 
be so imminent as to involve the strategic movement 
and disposition of fleets, squadrons, and flotillas. This 
principle is fully recognized in the military dispositions 
of the Continental Powers. Germany is compelled by 
her geographical position always to stand on guard, 
alike on her eastern and on her western frontier. It 
is well known that in 1870 a friendly understanding 
with Russia relieved Prussia of all serious anxiety for 
the security of her eastern frontier, and thus enabled 
her to exert her full strength against France. Thus 
does war operate in many unexpected ways and often 
in regions far removed from the actual theatre of 
hostilities. To these, its indirect effects, improbable 
it may be at the outset, but always to be reckoned in 
the category of future contingencies, no prudent nation 
can allow itself to be blind. The dispositions made in 
the autumn of 1904 were no menace to any neutral 
Power, and implied no undue suspicion of any such 
Power. But they were signs of England's resolve to 
be ready at all points, if war should unhappily overtake 

They were also an object-lesson in the strategy of 
position. They illustrated in the most impressive 
manner the true meaning of that permanent redistribu- 
tion of the naval forces of this country, which has 
since been carried into effect with the object of securing 
in full measure the initial advantage of well-selected 
positions in the event of war. War with Russia was 
the immediate contingency of the moment. The ob- 
ligations imposed on France by her alliance with 
Russia were such as must, in any case, impose an 
immense strain on her neutrality, and might compel 
her, however reluctantly, to make common cause 
with her ally. The neutrality of Germany was not to 
be taken for granted. Hence this country was brought 


lace to face with contingencies of international conflict 
as serious as almost any with which she is ever likely 
to be confronted. The dispositions then adopted, 
under the stress of exceedingly strained relations, 
were precisely those which have since been made per- 
manent by the subsequent redistribution of the Fleet. 
The main fleets were echeloned, as it were, between 
the North Sea and the Mediterranean in accordance 
with the paramount condition which requires this 
country to be ready on two fronts and to deny the 
passage of "the Straits" to any hostile force. The 
Channel Fleet was at Gibraltar, and there it is now 
permanently based, its designation being changed to 
that of the Atlantic Fleet to indicate its true position 
and function. In the circumstances of the moment 
it was compelled to detach half its battleship force 
for the purpose of reinforcing what was then called 
the Home Fleet, and has now once more reverted 
to that title. This movement of concentration was 
strictly in accordance with the principle enunciated 
above, that, owing to changes in the balance of naval 
power in Europe, and a consequential transfer of 
the centre of strategic moment to the northward, 
the premier Fleet of this country is now the Fleet 
in home waters, and no longer the Mediterranean 
Fleet. But in future it will not be necessary, as it 
was at the moment under consideration, to weaken 
the Atlantic Fleet for the purpose of reinforcing the 
Home Fleet. The former is still partially based on 
Gibraltar, and this disposition indicates that, when 
it is not required to act independently, it is to be 
regarded as a potential reinforcement of the Mediterra- 
nean Fleet not less than of the Home Fleet. In any 
case, it is the connecting link between the two, the 
centre of a broad front, one flank of which covers the 
North Sea and the other the Mediterranean. For 
immediate reinforcement, whenever occasion may 
require, the Fleets in home waters will, henceforth, 
look to that portion of the Home Fleet proper, which 



under the title of " Fleet in Commission in Reserve," 
was brought into existence simultaneously with the 
new scheme of distribution, and was then so or- 
ganized, as it still is in part, as to be ready to take 
the sea at any moment with reduced but sufficient 
and fully trained crews, as soon as steam can be 
raised in the boilers — and to take the sea with full 
complements as soon as the necessary ratings can 
be drafted on board. Even as early as July, 1905, a 
most imposing demonstration was given of the vast 
potentialities for immediate reinforcement, then en- 
joyed by the Channel Fleet, by the assembling in 
Torbay and in the offing of nearly two hundred 
pendants, representing exclusively the Channel Fleet 
and the Fleet in Commission in Reserve, as it was then 
called, with their affiliated squadrons and flotillas ; and 
before reaching Torbay their fighting efficiency had 
been tested by a succession of tactical and strategic 
exercises. The recent development of the Home 
Fleet, which now contains the newest and most 
powerful ships in the Navy, and is kept at all times 
fully manned and constantly exercised at sea, is a 
still more impressive manifestation of the principles 
which determined the redistribution of 1904. 

Enough has now been said, perhaps, concerning the 
strategy of position as it affects the distribution of the 
main fleets, which are still, as they always have been, 
the controlling factor in naval war. The " capital 
ships " are henceforth to be concentrated exclusively 
in European waters — the former concentration of 
battleships in Far Eastern waters having been due 
to exceptional and transient circumstances — and are 
to be so distributed as to be ready for instant action, 
with every advantage of position in all probable con- 
tingencies of European warfare. Nothing could more 
fully justify the new scheme of distribution than what 
happened at the time of the Dogger Bank incident, 
which immediately preceded its promulgation. That 
incident was wholly unexpected, and no foresight 


could have anticipated it. The Mediterranean Fleet 
was scattered over the Adriatic and the Levant, the 
Channel Fleet (then known as the Home Fleet) was 
cruising round the British Isles. Yet instantly, and 
to all appearance automatically, the naval forces of 
this country fell into the positions assigned to them 
under the new scheme of distribution, these positions 
being thus shown to be those best adapted to the 
strategic requirements of a very grave international 
complication. It remains to consider the proper dis- 
tribution, as determined by the strategy of position, 
of the " cruiser " element of naval force. Naval warfare 
has two main purposes — to destroy the main fleets of 
the enemy, and to protect, or to assail, maritime com- 
merce. Broadly speaking, the former purpose is the 
function of " capital ships," the latter is the function 
of the " cruiser " properly so called. I purposely 
refrain from employing the term " battleships " for 
the former class, because the distinction between the 
battleship and the cruiser would seem to be rapidly 
disappearing. But the distinction between " capital 
ships " and cruisers is primordial and fundamental. 
" Capital ships " are ships which are " fit to lie in a 
line," as our forefathers used to say. If a cruiser is fit 
to lie in a line — and Togo showed that in his judgment 
some armoured cruisers are, or were — it becomes a 
" capital ship " whenever it is employed as a tactical 
unit in the line of battle. But " cruisers " proper are 
those ships which, whether fit to lie in a line or not, 
are not so employed, but are separately employed, 
either singly or in squadrons, not in the contest with 
the main fleets of the enemy, but in the protection or 
the destruction of commerce or, more generally, in the 
control of sea communications. The distinction is thus 
one rather of employment than of constructive type. 
The cruiser is no longer to be defined positively by 
its structure and armament ; it is rather to be defined 
negatively by its not being employed as a " capital 
ship," even though it may be in every way " fit to lie 


in a line." There is also another and most important 
function of cruisers proper, which is that of collecting 
and transmitting intelligence, of acting as the eyes and 
ears of a fighting fleet. But this function is rather 
tactical than strategic. It is not materially affected by 
the strategy of position, with which alone I am here 
concerned. I assume, as a matter of course, that the 
main fleets, when placed in position, are provided with 
a contingent of cruisers sufficient for the effective 
discharge of this indispensable function. 

Now, it might at first sight appear that whereas the 
main principle in the disposition of fighting fleets is 
concentration, the main principle in the disposition of 
cruisers proper is dispersion. In a certain sense and 
up to a certain point this is true, and the maintenance 
and disposition of naval forces by this country in 
extra-European waters is still largely governed by this 
consideration. The amount of force required in those 
waters is determined by the amount of force maintained 
by other Powers there, and its disposition, in time of 
war, is determined in like manner by the dispositions 
of the enemy. Under the new scheme of distribution, 
outlying squadrons, consisting mainly of ships of 
little or no fighting value, and employed chiefly for 
police or diplomatic purposes, have been disestablished, 
provision being otherwise made for such police and 
diplomatic services as cannot be dispensed with. 
" Care has been taken," said the First Lord of the 
Admiralty in his memorandum of December 6, 1904, 
" to leave enough ships on every station for the ade- 
quate performance of what I may call peace duties of 
Imperial police, and the four cruiser squadrons will 
be employed to show the Flag in imposing force 
wherever it may be deemed to be politically or 
strategically desirable." For the rest, the cruisers 
working in extra-European waters are now organized 
in three groups as follows, to quote again the same 
memorandum: "The Eastern group will comprise 
the cruisers of the China, Australia, and East Indies 


stations. The responsibility will rest on the Com- 
mander-in-Chief of the China station for the strategical 
distribution of those cruisers in time of war, so 
that they may at the earliest possible moment deal 
with all ships of the enemy to be found in those 
waters. The Cape of Good Hope Squadron will be 
a connecting link between either the Eastern group 
and the Mediterranean cruisers, or the Eastern group 
and the Western group. The Western group of 
cruisers will consist of the cruisers under the com- 
mand of the Commander-in-Chief of the North 
American and West Indian station, and the mobilized 
cruisers with which he will be reinforced in time of 
war." The constitution and disposition of this latter 
group will be considered presently. It suffices to 
remark here that the whole organization is manifestly 
and avowedly based on a clear perception of the 
strategy of position. Its essential principle is em- 
bodied in the words, " so that they may at the earliest 
possible moment deal with all ships of the enemy to 
be found in those waters." To deal with them effec- 
tively is to prevent their preying upon commerce, and 
thereby to secure the maritime communications of the 
Empire throughout the waters affected. How far they 
will be concentrated and how far dispersed depends 
entirely on the dispositions of the enemy, their sole 
business being to " deal with " all his ships and give 
a good account of them. 

But how about the cruisers in European waters ? 
Should they be concentrated or dispersed? That, 
again, depends largely on circumstances. For the 
present they are concentrated and organized in so 
many several squadrons, one being affiliated, but not 
attached, to each of the main fleets, which is also 
furnished with " a sufficient number of attendant 
cruisers " for scouting purposes. " These cruiser 
squadrons will be detachable from the fleets to which 
they are affiliated for special cruiser exercises or for 
special cruises." That is their peace disposition. 


How they will be employed in war depends upon 
circumstances, and chiefly on the dispositions of the 
enemy. Will the enemy seek to attack British mari- 
time commerce by means of detached cruisers or by 
means of organized squadrons ? That is a question 
which only experience can answer. What seems to 
be certain is that he will use powerful armoured 
cruisers for the purpose, and probably use such 
vessels only. In that case we can only employ 
armoured cruisers to impeach him. Small cruisers, 
slow in speed, weak in armament, and inadequately 
protected against gun-fire, will apparently be out of 
court on both sides, certainly on the enemy's side if 
we employ armoured cruisers against them, and not 
less certainly on our side if he does the same. If he 
concentrates, we must concentrate. If he disperses, 
we must disperse ; but in either case we must take 
care to be in superior force at the critical point. The 
question is far too large to be considered fully here, 1 
and it only concerns the strategy of position, in so far 
as the guerre de course is now much more largely an 
affair of position than it was in the wars of the sailing- 
ship period. It is an affair of position in two ways. 
In the first place, ships which seek to prey upon 
commerce must issue from certain ports, and are 
therefore best impeached in the neighbourhood of 
those ports. They must also make frequently for 
certain ports to replenish their fuel — not necessarily 
the same ports, but still only certain ports, which 
again defines their position within ascertainable limits. 
All this makes for concentration. In the old days, when 
privateering was permitted, ships could leave almost 
any port of the enemy, and return to any other port, 
and this made for dispersion on both sides, especially 
as the disparity between privateer and frigate in those 
days was much less than the disparity between small 
unarmoured cruiser and large armoured cruiser in these 
days, the advantage of speed being nearly always on 
1 It is more fully considered in the next following essay, pp. 302-340. 


the side of the privateer. In the second place, maritime 
commerce is no longer distributed almost at random 
over the ocean as it was in the old sailing days. It 
takes certain definite courses, and it converges on 
certain definite points — namely, the ports of clearance 
and delivery. The courses can be changed and varied 
almost indefinitely within such wide limits as would 
greatly embarrass the enemy without greatly increas- 
ing the duration of the transit, so that, regard being 
had to the limited coal-supply of modern warships, 
especially when cruising at high speed, it would seem 
that only at the points of convergence would a modern 
commerce-destroyer be likely to destroy enough com- 
merce to liquidate its own coal-bill. But the points 
of convergence are known and rigidly determined by 
geographical conditions. Concentration of the defence 
at these points, necessarily within easy reach of British 
naval bases, would go far to checkmate the depreda- 
tions of the assailant. On the other hand, if the 
enemy disperses, the defence need no longer be con- 
centrated, adequate preponderance of force being 
presupposed in either case. I do not pretend that 
the foregoing is an exhaustive or even an adequate 
discussion of this great subject. Its sole purpose is 
to point out the relation between the strategy of 
position and the guerre de course, and to suggest that 
the problems presented by the latter in these days 
are of quite a different and of a much more com- 
plicated order than those presented by it in the days 
of sailing-ships. 

It only remains to consider the relation of the 
strategy of position to the navy of the United States. 
It seems at first sight a paradox that the rise of the 
United States into the position of one of the great 
naval Powers of the world should coincide in point 
of time with the disestablishment of the North 
American and Pacific stations, and the demobilization 
of the naval bases associated with them. But the 
reason is not far to seek, being partly strategic and 


partly political. When the American navy was weak 
in the Atlantic and still weaker in the Pacific, the 
squadrons maintained by England in those regions 
were quite adequate to deal with it in the unhappy 
event of war. But now that the American navy is 
strong in both seas, the maintenance of such squadrons 
as were formerly maintained by this country in those 
regions would be a violation of the very first principles 
of the strategy of position, since in the event of war 
these weak and detached squadrons would be con- 
fronted by an overwhelming force of the enemy 
operating with the great advantage of having its bases 
and the central sources of national power at hand. 
There would thus be no alternative for a weak 
squadron in those waters but to retire precipitately 
the moment war became imminent. It could take no 
offensive action whatever, and could not even defend 
the West Indian possessions of the Crown. Canada, 
in such a contingency, must be defended mainly on 
land, though of course the command of the sea is 
essential to the military defence of Canada. 

If ever England and the United States do unhappily 
go to war, the issue will be decided, not by such ships 
as were formerly stationed on either side of the North 
American Continent, but by the " capital ships " of 
both Powers. If, therefore, we are to maintain any 
permanent naval force in the North Atlantic or the 
Pacific, it must be in the one case such a force as is 
capable of giving a good account of the main fleet of 
the supposed enemy, and in the other, such as is 
capable of dealing " at the earliest possible moment 
with all ships of the enemy to be found in those 
waters." The latter condition is, as matters stand 
at present, potentially satisfied by the general dis- 
position and organization, as described above, of 
the British naval forces in the Pacific. The former 
could not be satisfied without gravely weakening 
and practically paralysing the naval defences of 
this country in European waters ; and even then it 


would be a very questionable disposition for the 
particular contingency under consideration. There 
is no more reason why this country should keep a 
large moiety of its naval forces in American waters 
to meet the remote contingency of a war with the 
United States, than there is why the United States 
should keep the bulk of its naval forces in European 
waters to meet the same remote contingency. The 
elements of time and distance here take precedence 
of the mere strategy of position, and they operate 
equally on both sides. For the two Powers to keep 
their respective naval forces on their own side of the 
Atlantic is at once a sign of mutual good-will and the 
best assurance of its permanence. 

For this reason, then, the North American and 
West Indian Squadron has practically disappeared 
as a factor in the strategy of position. But the British 
possessions on the other side of the Atlantic are not 
to be wholly deprived of the countenance and comfort 
of the British flag afloat. In place of the disestablished 
squadron, a fourth cruiser squadron — designated above 
as the western group of cruisers — has been organized, 
consisting mainly of ships allocated to the training 
service afloat. This squadron is henceforth to consist 
of valuable modern fighting ships, and though its 
base will be in Home waters, its cruising ground 
will include the whole of the former North American 
station — a station which, " extending as it does from 
the Pole to the Equator, will give the admiral in 
command opportunities of organizing the training of 
his crews under better climatic conditions than can 
be found anywhere else. ... In time of war it will 
only be necessary to remove from those ships cadets, 
or youths, or boys still under training, and to com- 
plete the crews with the small additions required for 
war." The squadron will also be reinforced in time 
of war with a contingent of mobilized cruisers. The 
essence of the change is that this squadron now takes 
its organic place in a general scheme of distribution, 


based on the strategy of position, and no longer 
occupies a station which has been rendered isolated 
and untenable by the rise of the American navy, and 
even obsolete by the growing friendship between this 
country and the United States. 

For it is this, after all, which really governs the 
whole situation as between these two great and 
kindred naval Powers. " Blood is thicker than water." 
The two navies found that out long ago, when Com- 
modore Tatnall first uttered the words in the China 
seas. It has taken the two nations longer to discover 
it, but they have found it out at last. At Bermuda, 
in 1899, I had the privilege of meeting the late Admiral 
Sampson, who was visiting the island with his squadron 
still fresh from the honours of the Cuban War. The 
American fleet was received with the utmost cor- 
diality, and the birthday of Washington, which 
occurred during the visit, was honoured by a salute 
from the flagship of the British Commander-in-Chief. 
I have often thought since that that salute may have 
been, in its symbolic aspect, as significant an event 
in the world's history as even the Boston tea-party. 
For, whereas the one marked the beginning of national 
estrangement, the other was, perhaps, the first overt 
sign of a growing national reconciliation. Admiral 
Sampson himself was deeply impressed by it, as well 
as by the whole character of his reception in Bermuda. 
He told me that it had impressed on him the conviction 
that the friendly feeling towards England then begin- 
ning to be entertained by the people of the United 
States, was abundantly reciprocated on the English 
side. I ventured to assure him that this feeling on 
the part of England was no new or ephemeral growth, 
but that in spite of occasional interruptions, not arising 
in England, and deeply regretted by the mass of the 
English people, it had existed for many years. He 
replied, " That may be, but the feeling in the United 
States has been, I acknowledge, of quite a different 
character, until a very recent date. We in the United 


States have been accustomed to regard England as 
the only European Power with which our relations, 
being close and sometimes critical, were likely to 
give rise to serious differences. England is the only 
European Power with which, up to last year, we have 
ever fought. The traditions of our revolution and of 
our war of 181 2 have sunk deep into the national mind, 
and have for a long time stood in the way of any 
cordial and permanent understanding. In common 
with the great mass of my countrymen, I shared these 
feelings myself until quite lately. But for some reason 
or another, which I cannot assign with confidence, 
though it is probably connected directly and in- 
directly with the recent war between the United 
States and Spain, a vast and marvellous change, to 
me as welcome as it was unexpected, has now come 
over the feelings of the people of the United States. 
Whether it is likely to be permanent or not I cannot 
say with confidence, but I sincerely hope it is. Instead 
of regarding England as our only probable enemy in 
Europe, we now regard her as our best and perhaps 
our only friend, and at any rate as the friend best 
worth having. The deeper sentiment of a common 
origin and faith, a common literature and history, of 
common laws and kindred institutions, has finally 
overpowered what still survived of the revolutionary 
sentiment of antagonism. We feel that the result of 
the war has brought us into contact and possible 
conflict with more than one European Power. We 
feel also that with England our friend and the British 
Fleet on our side we have nothing to fear from any 
other Power, or even from two or three of the Powers 
of Europe combined. An alliance would perhaps be 
premature, nor is it needed so long as the feeling on 
both sides remains what it is at present. Possibly we 
could not hope in the first instance for more than the 
moral support of England in any conflict with a Con- 
tinental Power. But that would suffice, and in times 
of real difficulty it would ripen sooner or later into 


a defensive alliance. I say frankly that in my opinion 
the United States have more to gain from such an 
alliance than England has, though the moral and even 
material advantage to England is manifestly not in- 
considerable, and is likely to grow with time. For 
this reason I rejoice unfeignedly at the change of 
sentiment which has lately come over public opinion 
on this side of the Atlantic. I am not less gratified 
by the assurance that no such change is needed on 
the other, and if any words of mine can cement a 
friendship which would, I believe, make for the welfare 
of the whole world, it is at once a pleasure to myself 
and a duty to my country to utter them." 

That was now ten years ago. Admiral Sampson's 
words were prophetic, for no one on either side 
of the Atlantic can doubt that the relation between 
England and the United States is now closer and 
more friendly than that between any two other 
Powers in the world. In fact, the difference is one 
of kind and not merely one of degree ; and on both 
sides of the Atlantic it is now fully recognized that 
the relation between the two nations is really that 
which Plato thought ought to subsist between Greek 
state and Greek state as contrasted with that between 
any Greek state and the world outside Hellas. Plato 
refused to give the name "war" to any difference 
between two Greek states. He would only call it 
" discord," the word used by Greek writers to describe 
the internal conflicts — often, unhappily, armed conflicts 
— of Greek political parties. " There is," he said, " a 
difference in the names ' discord ' and ' war,' and I 
imagine that there is also a difference in their natures ; 
the one is expressive of what is internal and domestic, 
and the other of what is external and foreign, . . . and 
any difference that arises among Hellenes will be 
regarded by them as discord only — a quarrel among 
friends, which is not to be called a war; . . . they will 
quarrel as those who intend some day to be recon- 
ciled." If we translate this into modern phraseology, 


it means simply that two nations so situated will never 
quarrel at all, in the sense of going to war. Just as 
political parties nowadays compose their " discords " 
without resort to arms, so two kindred nations, like 
England and the United States, will find some way 
out of their differences without attempting to destroy 
each other. It is a far cry from the republic of Plato 
to the New York Tribune and its whilom editor, now 
Ambassador of the United States to the Court of 
King Edward VII., but the distance is bridged over 
in a few words uttered by Mr. Whitelaw Reid at a 
banquet given to welcome him on his arrival in 
England : " You would be less than kind if, at this 
date and after all that has gone before, you should 
expect from me this evening a long speech on the 
expediency or necessity for friendly relations between 
our two countries. Now, if ever, is surely a time 
when one need not weary you by saying at length 
such an undisputed thing in such a solemn way. Of 
course we ought to be on good terms. Why not ? 
Let me put it a little differently. Of course we are 
on good terms. Why not ? What conceivable reason 
is there now why the two great branches of the 
English-speaking family should not be, as they are, 
actually enjoying the friendly relations we are told 
it is our duty night and day to bring about. That is 
their normal state— that has been increasingly for a 
good many years their historical state. It is the thing 
that now comes naturally. The opposite is what would 
be unnatural, difficult, against instinct, monstrous." 
That is the idea of Plato expressed in the language 
of modern men of the world. It explains why the 
strategy of position has no practical application to 
the case of the United States, since both nations are 
now fast learning to exclude war altogether from the 
purview of their international relations. 


" r I ^HE harassment and distress caused to a country 
X by serious interference with its commerce will 
be conceded by all. It is, doubtless, a most important 
secondary operation of naval war, and is not likely 
to be abandoned till war itself shall cease ; but, 
regarded as a primary and fundamental measure, 
sufficient in itself to crush an enemy, it is probably 
a delusion, and a most dangerous delusion when pre- 
sented in the fascinating garb of cheapness to the 
representatives of a people. Especially is it misleading 
when the nation against whom it is to be directed 
possesses, as Great Britain did and does, the two 
requisites of a strong sea-Power — a widespread healthy 
commerce and a powerful Navy." Such is the con- 
sidered judgment of Captain Mahan on the subject 
which is to be discussed in this essay. The same 
great writer has shown that during the war of the 
French Revolution and Empire the direct loss to this 
country " by the operation of hostile cruisers did not 
exceed 2\ per cent, of the commerce of the Empire ; 
and that this loss was partially made good by the 
prize-ships and merchandise taken by its own naval 
vessels and privateers." During the same period the 
French mercantile flag disappeared entirely from the 
seas, while the volume of British maritime commerce 
was more than doubled. In a former war, when the 
British supremacy at sea was moreseriously challenged, 
premiums of fifteen guineas per cent, were paid in 

1 Naval Annual, 1906. 


1782 on ships trading to the Far East. From the 
spring of 1793 to the end of the great struggle with 
Napoleon no premiums exceeding half that rate paid. 
From all this it would seem to follow that of two 
belligerents in a naval war, that one which establishes 
and maintains an effective command of the seas will 
be absolute master of the maritime commerce of the 
other, while his own maritime commerce, though not 
entirely immune, will suffer no such decisive losses 
as will determine or even materially affect the course 
and issue of war, and may, indeed, emerge from the 
war much stronger and more prosperous than it was 
at the beginning. 

Such is the ascertained and undisputed teaching of 
history in the past. But history deals only with the 
past, and the past, to which appeal is made above, 
differs so widely from the present in respect of the 
methods, opportunities, implements, and international 
conventions of naval war, as well as in respect of the 
conditions, volume, and national importance of 
maritime commerce in these days, that we must needs 
be very warily on our guard against taking the 
history of the past as an unconditional guide in the 
naval warfare of the present and the future. The 
teaching of the late war in the Far East, which was 
waged entirely under modern conditions, has not yet 
been sufficiently studied, its data have not yet been 
sufficiently sifted, to justify any detailed and critical 
examination. But certain broad principles seem to 
emerge from it. It has been said above that an 
effective command of the sea is the condition pre- 
cedent of the comparative immunity of the maritime 
commerce of a belligerent. The Japanese command 
of the sea was never fully established until after the 
battle of Tsu-Shima. For that reason it was im- 
possible for Russian maritime commerce to be seriously 
assailed by Japan anywhere outside the area of 
immediate conflict ; it may be added that the volume 
of Russian maritime commerce is so insignificant that 


even had it been possible for Japan to assail it in the 
open and at a distance, it would have been scarcely 
worth her while to do so. But within the area of 
immediate conflict — the only area that counted for 
practical purposes— the effective, but not absolute, 
command of the sea was secured by Japan from the 
very outset. This is proved by the fact that the 
transport of the Japanese armies in unprecedented 
numbers across the sea to Manchuria, their mainten- 
ance and continuous reinforcement there with all the 
supplies that a modern army in the field requires, 
though not entirely unmolested, was never seriously 
interrupted. A command of the sea which, though 
not absolute, is effective enough to secure the trans- 
port, supply, and reinforcement of great armies — that 
is, to maintain the continuous flow of a stream of 
immense volume — must needs be more than effective 
enough to furnish a corresponding immunity to the 
much smaller, though doubtless more widely diffused, 
stream of private maritime commerce, and even of 
neutral commerce engaged in the transport of con- 
traband. A certain amount of damage was done, no 
doubt, from time to time, by Russian cruisers, which 
possessed, in Vladivostock, a secure and unmolested 
base. But it was comparatively insignificant, and it 
had no appreciable effect on the course and issue of 
the war. 

The teaching of the Cuban War between Spain and 
the United States need not be considered. Maritime 
commerce, its defence and attack, hardly came into 
view in connection with it. Spain had too little 
commerce to be worth the attention of the United 
States, and no warships at all that could be employed 
against the commerce of the United States. But the 
case is somewhat different with the American War of 
Secession. This was waged in the period of transi- 
tion from the old warfare to the new. Navies already 
consisted almost exclusively of steamships, but these 
steamships still possessed considerable sail-power, 


and many of them employed steam only as an occa- 
sional auxiliary, while the mercantile marine of all 
countries, and more especially of the United States, 
still consisted very largely of sailing-ships. Now, an 
armed steamship, even if only furnished with auxiliary 
steam-power, must needs be master of every unarmed 
sailing-ship it meets, and, being possessed of sail- 
power, it is endowed with a mobility, a range of 
action, and a power of keeping the sea which are far 
greater than those of any warship which, being pro- 
pelled by steam alone, can go no further afield than 
its coal endurance allows. These considerations go 
far to explain the relatively very large amount of 
damage done by the Alabama and other commerce- 
destroying cruisers fitted out by the Southern States 
during the American War of Secession. The naval 
forces of the North were very greatly superior to 
those of the South ; so much so, that they were able 
to maintain a fairly effective blockade of the Confederate 
ports over a very wide extent of sea-board. But, 
concentrating their attention almost exclusively on 
the maintenance of that blockade, they were not able, 
or were adjudged by the naval authorities to be not 
able, to afford adequate protection to the sea-going 
mercantile marine of the North. The consequence 
was that the Alabama and her consorts had things 
nearly all their own way for many months, and that 
the mercantile flag of the North disappeared almost 
entirely from the seas. This, however, was due quite 
as much to faults of strategic disposition as to de- 
ficiency of naval force. The career of the Alabama 
very quickly came to an end when effective measures 
were taken to bring her to book. Had these measures 
been taken, as they should have been, at the outset, 
her depredations would have been comparatively 
insignificant. Her career is a very instructive object- 
lesson — applicable, however, for the most part, only 
to her own peculiar and very exceptional period of 
transition — in the methods of commerce-destruction ; 



but, rightly regarded, it is a still more instructive 
object-lesson in the wrong methods of commerce 
defence. It proves only what really needs no proof, 
that a single-armed steamship can do immense 
damage to a mercantile marine consisting almost 
entirely of sailing-ships wholly unarmed if no attempt 
is made to bring her to book. The attempt to forecast 
what would happen in a naval war in these days to 
the British mercantile marine from the depredations 
of the Alabama during the War of Secession is a 
very unintelligent one, and quite a foolish one, if the 
real facts of the case are either entirely ignored or 
sedulously misinterpreted. 

For, after all, apart from the very exceptional 
circumstances and conditions of the time, these de- 
predations, though very serious and almost ruinous 
in their indirect effects, were not so extensive as has 
often been represented. The damages wrought by 
the Alabama and such of her consorts as came within 
the purview of the Geneva Tribunal were assessed by 
that Tribunal at some £3,000,000 sterling ; and it has 
often been said that the Government of the United 
States experienced some difficulty in discovering 
claimants for the whole of that amount — which was 
really a very insignificant sum compared with the 
total cost of the war to the North. In a Memorandum 
communicated by the Admiralty to the Royal Com- 
mission on Supply of Food and Raw Materials in 
War, it is stated that, " even the Alabama herself only 
averaged three prizes per month during her career, 
and the Shenandoah, which met with no opposition 
in her attack on the American whalers, only averaged 
3'8 per month, and the average number of prizes for 
the whole thirteen Confederate Government commerce- 
destroyers only amounted to 27 per month, and some 
of these appear to have been small fishing craft and 
insignificant coasters." The Report of the Commission 
further states, on the authority of information supplied 
to it — though whether by the Admiralty or not is not 


stated — that " the Confederate cruisers were eight in 
number, and that at different times they fitted out 
captured sailing-ships as tenders to the total number 
of four. The former captured three steamers and 208 
sailing ships, and the latter captured nineteen sailing 
ships. It also appears that of the eight cruisers three 
were steamers without sail-power, and their career 
was short, and five were steamers with good sail- 
power, of which the three best sailers {Alabama, 
Florida, and Shenandoah) had the longest careers. 
The Alabama once cruised for five months without 
coaling, and four times for three months." Thus the 
steamers without sail-power were ineffective and 
their careers were short, although the efforts of the 
North were intermittent, and strategically often ill- 
conceived. Those which possessed good sail-power 
were able to keep the sea for a much longer period 
than any modern vessel, whether warship proper or 
merchant ship armed for the occasion, could do. It 
is thus manifest that any inferences drawn from the 
depredations of the Alabama and her consorts must 
be drawn in accordance with these authentic and 
very significant facts and figures. 

Nor, again, must too great stress be laid on the 
fact that the depredations of the Alabama and her 
consorts practically drove the Federal mercantile flag 
from the seas for the time being. This is entirely in 
accordance with the teaching and experience of naval 
history. A single cruiser unmolested and unpursued 
is practically in command of the whole area of sea 
left undefended against her depredations. The hostile 
mercantile flag cannot, therefore, exist within that 
area. It is not so much the certainty of capture, but 
the appreciable risk of capture, which drives the ships 
flying that flag home, and they will not quit their 
shelter again until the assailant is disposed of, any 
more than birds scared by a hawk will quit their 
hiding places until the hawk is out of sight. But 
this is quite a different thing from the actual captures 


made by the assailant. Floating commerce disappears 
and its profits vanish so long as the assailant is 
unmolested and undisposed of, but in ordinary circum- 
stances it would reappear as soon as that consummation 
was reached. It did not reappear in anything like 
the same volume, either during the War of Secession 
after the Alabama was disposed of, nor afterwards 
when the war was over. But the Alabama and her 
consorts counted for very little in this result. We 
learn from the Admiralty Memorandum already quoted 
above, that u a Select Committee of the American 
Congress in 1869 reported that the decline in American 
tonnage due to the war amounted to a loss of less 
than 5 per cent, of the whole from captures, together 
with a further loss of about 32 per cent, of vessels 
either sold or transferred temporarily to neutral 
flags ; and they concluded that American shipping 
did not revive after the war, owing to the burdens 
of taxation which the war had left imposed on all 
the industries of the country, but which operated 
with peculiar hardness on the shipping interest, in- 
asmuch as it was thereby subjected to the unrestricted 
competition of foreign rivals, not only in home ports, 
but in all parts of the world." We have seen that 
the loss to British maritime commerce during the 
wars of the French Revolution and Empire did not 
exceed an average of 2J per cent, annually during 
the whole of the period of conflict, and that at the 
end of that period the volume of commerce, in spite 
of its losses, was at least doubled. The direct loss to 
the maritime commerce of the Northern States of the 
Union during the War of Secession was about twice 
as much under conditions which deprived the Federal 
Government of that effective command of the sea 
which is essential to the defence of commerce. In 
addition, the maritime commerce of the United States 
suspended during the war did not revive afterwards ; 
but that was due to economic and fiscal causes, with 
which the Alabama and her consorts had little or 


nothing to do. Surely in the light of these facts and 
figures it is time that the Alabama myth should be 
taken as finally exploded. 

It would thus appear that there is nothing in the 
history of the recent past to disallow the teaching of 
the more distant past, to the effect that the command 
of the sea is essential for the successful attack upon 
commerce, and that an adverse command of the sea is 
a sure safeguard against such an attack. Still it is 
not to be denied that the conditions of modern naval 
warfare and of modern maritime commerce differ very 
materially from those which prevailed in the wars of 
the past. British maritime commerce, with which we 
are mainly concerned, is vastly greater now than it 
was in the wars of the eighteenth century, and it is 
also immeasurably more important to the welfare and 
even to the very existence of the country. Then it 
was mainly a source of wealth ; now it is an absolute 
necessity of bare existence. If we lost it in those 
days we were the poorer, but we were still able to 
feed ourselves and to maintain the bulk of our internal 
industries. War would have been infinitely more 
burdensome in those conditions, but unless or until 
the country was successfully invaded it would not 
have been destructive to the nation. In these days 
the total destruction of our maritime commerce would, 
even without invasion, mean national destitution and 
collapse. There is no need to labour this point. It 
is accepted on all hands without dispute. A fleet in 
effective command of the sea is the only thing in these 
days that stands or can stand between this nation and 
its destruction. 

On the other hand, British maritime commerce, 
though now so vastly greater in volume and vital 
importance, is in many respects less assailable than 
it was in the days of old. Not only has the substitution 
— now so largely effected— of steam for sails endowed 
the modern merchant vessel with a much higher 
average speed, but it has enabled it to take much more 


direct courses, and, what is much more important, 
to vary those courses within very wide limits, almost 
at discretion. In the old days the courses open to a 
sailing vessel were rigidly circumscribed within 18 
points of the compass out of 32 — or 20 points at the 
outside — according to the direction of the wind. 
Hence, in order to reach her destination, a sailing 
vessel was often compelled to steer a very indirect 
course so as, by taking advantage of the prevailing 
wind, to enable her to get towards her destination by 
a succession of oblique courses determined by the 
wind alone, and therefore not calculable beforehand. 
A steamship can at all times steer towards any pre- 
scribed point of the compass. Hence, the maritime 
commerce of the world is now for the most part 
confined to certain well-defined " trade routes," so 
insignificant in width that even when traced on a 
globe of considerable dimensions, they are little more 
than lines. Within the areas bounded by these lines 
it is hardly too much to say that a hostile cruiser 
seeking to prey upon commerce would be hard put to 
it to find so much commerce to prey upon as would 
pay her own coal-bill. It follows that hostile cruisers 
engaged in a guerre de course must, to make their 
warfare effective, lie in wait for their prey on or in the 
immediate neighbourhood of the trade routes. It is 
there, then, that the belligerent in command of the 
sea will send his cruisers to intercept them. He can 
also in many cases give instructions by telegraph to 
merchant vessels of his own nationality to take for a 
time some divergent course, sufficiently removed from 
the ordinary trade route to throw the assailant off 
the scent. In these circumstances the havoc wrought 
by the raiding cruiser, though vexatious and costly 
for the moment, is not likely to be ruinous in the 
long run. 

Now as far as British maritime commerce is con- 
cerned the only trade routes which need be considered 
are those which traverse the Atlantic and the Mediter- 


ranean. These all converge finally in the area of sea 
defined by the Land's End, Cape Clear, and Cape 
Finisterre, and it is manifest that within that area 
it is most likely that British naval force will at all 
times be found supreme. The subsidiary route which 
leads to British ports round the North of Ireland 
might also be assailed, and would therefore have to 
be guarded ; but here again the point of attack is 
much nearer to the centres of British naval power 
than it is to the naval bases of any other nation. 
The case is different in the Mediterranean, but not 
so different as to constitute an exception to the 
general rule, so long as the British command of that 
sea is unimpaired. In any case the defence of com- 
merce which follows a clearly defined trade route 
must needs be a simpler matter than it was when 
routes were varied indefinitely according to the wind, 
and when therefore there was not very much more 
reason for finding the ships to be assailed in one 
position than in another, except, indeed, at the points 
of concentration ; and at these, of course, the defence 
was much stronger and more highly organized than 
anywhere else. " War," said Napoleon, " is an affair of 
positions." When the positions are known beforehand 
they can, of course, be much more easily assailed than 
when they are not. On the other hand they can also 
be much more easily defended. The best way to 
defend them is, if possible, to catch the assailant as 
he leaves his port. If that fails, the next best thing is 
to keep a sharp look out for him at each of the com- 
paratively few positions for which he must make. 
Even if his speed, vigilance, and ingenuity enable him 
to evade capture there, two results must inevitably 
follow. He will do little damage so long as he is 
constantly being hunted off the trade route, and 
within a very short time his coal will be exhausted 
and his powers of offence will be paralysed until he 
can replenish his bunkers. Then the whole proceeding 
will be repeated da capo. The hunter will become 


the hunted. The last thing that a commerce-destroyer 
wants to do is to fight engagements with his equals. 
He may prove victorious in the engagement, but, 
even so, he is not likely to come off scot-free, or in 
any condition to pursue his enterprises with effect. 
In his evidence before the Food Supply Commission, 
Admiral Sir Cyprian Bridge, an expert strategist, a 
former Director of Naval Intelligence, an experienced 
Commander-in-Chief afloat, and a profound student 
of naval history, stated " that it would be a liberal 
estimate to allow fourteen days without replenishing 
coal bunkers for a commerce-destroyer proceeding at 
any considerable speed." That represents the extreme 
tether of such a vessel. If she has a long way to go 
before reaching her hunting-ground, much of her 
coal will be burnt before she can set to work, since 
she must go at high speed in order to minimize the 
risks of observation and capture by the way. More 
will have to be reserved to enable her to reach a 
friendly coaling station or some secure and secluded 
position at sea for the purpose of replenishing her 
bunkers. How many days will be left to her for the 
prosecution of her marauding purpose under con- 
ditions which imply that she must be prepared at any 
moment either to fight an action which must bring 
her career as a commerce-destroyer to an end, or to 
run away as fast as she can, well knowing that unless 
she can give her pursuers the slip she will never be 
left until she has been hunted down ? The Food 
Supply Commission was officially assured by the 
Admiralty that if the enemy should merely detach 
one or two cruisers from his main forces for the 
purpose of harassing our commerce we could always 
spare a superior number of vessels to follow them. 
Such a superior number should make assurance doubly 
sure ; for Admiral Bridge pointed out to the Com- 
mission that "even if only one of our cruisers were in 
pursuit, it could be made too dangerous for a hostile 
cruiser to remain on or about a trade route." He 


added, however, that in his opinion protection could 
be best assured M by keeping the enemy's commerce- 
destroyers continually on the look-out for their own 
safety." The whole strategy of the situation is here 
succinctly defined. If the enemy's cruisers are con- 
centrated, being confronted, as, ex hypothesi, they 
must be, by a similar concentration in superior 
numbers on our part, they cannot be destroying com- 
merce, this being essentially an operation which 
involves dispersion. If, on the other hand, the enemy 
disperses his cruisers for the purpose of preying 
upon commerce there is nothing to prevent our 
detaching a superior number of cruisers to pursue 
them ; that required superiority of numbers being 
implied not only in the " two-Power standard," but 
also in the fundamental proposition that the safety 
of this country depends absolutely on an assured 
command of the sea. 

The next point to be considered is that, whereas 
the volume of maritime commerce to be attacked has 
increased enormously, the number of its possible 
assailants has very materially diminished. The 
number of the sheep is vastly greater, but the wolves 
are less numerous, and the watch-dogs are more 
than their match. The tendency of modern naval 
development has been to increase altogether beyond 
comparison the power of the individual units of naval 
force, but to diminish their aggregate numbers. In 
the year of Trafalgar there were 556 British sea-going 
warships in commission, of which 106 were ships of 
the line and the remainder cruisers large and small, 
including frigates other than ships of the line. 
Thirty-two more, twelve being ships of the line, were 
"in ordinary" — that is, available for sea-service. 
There were also built or building 130 more, of which 
twenty-six were ships of the line. The total tonnage 
of all these ships was 634,278 tons ; that of the sea- 
going and fighting ships actually available for sea- 
service was 430, 1 1 5 tons, or far less than the tonnage 


of forty modern battleships. The tonnage of the 
ships of the line in commission and in ordinary was 
208,817 tons, or far less than the tonnage of a dozen 
modern battleships. 1 The British Navy is now far 
stronger than it ever was in time of peace or war, 
and its annual cost has in recent years reached 
an unprecedented figure. Its effective fighting units 
are now all in commission either afloat or in reserve, 
with the exception of a small number of not very 
modern ships which are kept in readiness for 
emergency, though not in commission. In the Navy 
List for January, 1909, the total number of ships 
mostly in commission, and all either available for 
the pendant or in a more or less advanced stage 
of preparation, is given as 179, of which 59 are 
battleships, 39 armoured cruisers, 21 protected first- 
class cruisers, 35 and 17 protected cruisers of the 
second and third classes respectively, and eight 
scouts. These 179 pendants are of course immeasur- 
ably superior in offensive and defensive force to 
the 700 odd pendants of 1805 t but as commerce- 
destroying is essentially an affair of the dispersion of 
naval force, and does not— or did not in the old days 
— require any considerable weight of armament in the 
individual assailant, it stands to reason that out of 
an aggregate of 700 pendants many more could be 
spared for dispersion than can possibly be the case 
out of an aggregate of 179 pendants in all. Torpedo 
craft are not reckoned in the foregoing enumeration, 
because, as will be shown presently, torpedo craft are 
very inefficient vessels for the prosecution of a guerre 
de course, except in special circumstances and within 
a very limited range of action. But for the purposes 
of full comparison it may be mentioned that the 

1 These figures, with the exception of the tonnage for modern 
battleships, are taken from a paper read at the Institution of Naval 
Architects on July 19, 1905, by the Chief Constructor of the Navy. 
Sir Philip Watts explained in a note that the tonnage of 1805 ships is 
given in "builders' old measurement." 


number of British destroyers is given in the Naval 
Annual for 1908 as 155, and of first-class torpedo- 
boats as 1 1 5, thus raising the total number of pendants 
to 449, as against 700 odd in 1805. As the British 
Navy is more than equal to those of any two other 
Powers it follows that the total number of available 
pendants possessed by any other single Power cannot 
be more than half of this total. 

There is moreover another point of very great im- 
portance in this connection. " Privateering is and 
remains abolished " was a clause in the Declaration 
of Paris formulated in 1856, but not accepted either 
then or since by all the maritime Powers. It may be 
urged, perhaps, that the Declaration of Paris is a mere 
paper convention which some Powers have not 
formally accepted, and that it might not be respected 
by a belligerent who found it his interest to disregard 
it. If it rested on the comparatively feeble sanction 
of International Law alone this argument would not 
be without weight. But privateering is not merely 
forbidden by International Law ; it is also largely 
disallowed and put out of date by the changes that 
have taken place in the materials and methods of 
naval warfare. In the old days a privateer could be 
built and armed in almost any port of the enemy ; 
she could obtain supplies and execute necessary re- 
pairs in almost any other port. She required a very 
moderate armament, her chief defence against the 
warships of the enemy being her capacity to show a 
clean pair of heels. In many cases it was not even 
necessary to build a vessel for the purpose. For 
longshore warfare against the enemy's ships traversing 
narrow waters, and often forced by the wind to hug 
the shore, any handy vessel, a fishing smack or even 
a row-boat, would sometimes serve ; and this kind of 
warfare against the slow and unhandy craft of those 
days was often very destructive. Thus, both in the 
narrow seas and in the open, the privateer was almost 
ubiquitous and withal exceedingly elusive. It is re- 


corded of one famous French sea-going privateer that 
the value of her prizes amounted to something like a 
million sterling before she was captured. All this 
kind of warfare is now manifestly obsolete ; no row- 
boat, fishing smack, or small craft of any kind, such 
as might easily overpower a ship becalmed or over- 
haul a slow sailer near the shore, would have much 
chance even against a modern " tramp," which is 
never becalmed, need never approach the coast, and 
can generally steam some ten knots at a pinch. Their 
occupation is gone without the aid of International 
Law at all. The sea-going privateer, on the other 
hand, must needs be a vessel of very high speed, and 
therefore of considerable size. In these days of rapid 
communication her construction could hardly escape 
observation, and her first exit from port would rarely 
be unmolested or even unobserved by an enemy who 
knew his business. Even the Alabama game is 
probably played out. Her construction was perfectly 
well known to the Federal Government, and though 
she left this country without her armament she would 
certainly have been stopped by the British Govern- 
ment but for a concurrence of untoward circumstances 
— the chief of which was the sudden illness of the 
law officer to whom the papers were referred — which 
are very unlikely to occur in the same combination 
again. The consequences to this country were such 
that a weak neutral in any future war is not likely 
to care to face them. Nor will it be at all a promising 
speculation to build a fast sea-going privateer even 
in a belligerent country ; her construction is almost 
certain to be detected, and she is likely to have a 
very short shrift as soon as she puts to sea. If the 
country of her origin is one which has adhered to 
the Declaration of Paris her crew if captured will 
assuredly be treated as pirates. Thus privateering 
is practically a thing of the past ; the imperfect 
sanctions of International Law might not have been 
strong enough to abolish it if circumstances had not 


already practically put an end to it, as indeed the 
Declaration of Paris itself admits. " Privateering is 
and remains abolished." 

We may thus conclude with some confidence that 
the commerce-destroying of the future will be con- 
ducted by the regular and recognized warships of 
a belligerent, with the possible addition of exception- 
ally fast merchant steamers armed and commissioned 
for the time being as regular warships. But these 
latter, being no match, except in speed, for any sea- 
going warship proper, must needs take to flight 
whenever a hostile cruiser is sighted, so that on 
a trade route, properly guarded, their depredations 
would have to be conducted under very untoward 
conditions. It is probable, too, that the struggle 
for existence, of which war is one of the extremest 
forms, would lead rapidly to the elimination from 
the ranks of commerce-destroyers of all warships 
except large, fast, and powerful armoured cruisers, 
since the employment of even one of this type of 
vessel would, sooner or later, place at her mercy 
every unarmoured vessel of speed inferior to her own. 
Now, as against any single antagonist, this country 
possesses an ample supply of armoured cruisers for 
the protection of her trade routes, and even as 
against any two Powers her position is still one of 
assured superiority, especially when it is considered 
that no antagonist, whether single or combined, 
who was attempting to dispute the command of the 
sea with this country, would ever dream of fatally 
impairing the strategic and tactical efficiency of his 
fighting fleet by sending off all or any consider- 
able proportion of the comparatively few armoured 
cruisers he possesses to prey upon British commerce. 
If he takes the sea at all it must be for the purpose 
of trying conclusions with the British fleets in the 
open, in which case he will want all the available 
units of effective force that he can scrape together 
for the purpose, or for the purpose of some distant 


and hazardous combination — how hazardous let the 
story of the Trafalgar campaign bear witness — in 
which case all the armoured cruisers he can lay his 
hands on will not be more than sufficient for the in- 
dispensable work of scouting. If, on the other hand, 
recognizing that he is not strong enough to try 
conclusions in the open he remains within the shelter 
of his fortified bases, then every cruiser which 
manages to make its escape must and will be shadowed, 
pursued, and harried to the bitter end by a superior 
force of British cruisers detached from the main fleets 
for the purpose. The main fleets will of course be 
strategically so placed as to have the best chance of 
bringing the enemy to an action as soon as possible 
whenever he takes the sea. Their positions will be 
so chosen as to be just beyond the range of nocturnal 
torpedo attack, and yet not so far afield but that 
intelligence of the enemy's movements can be very 
rapidly transmitted to them. Togo has shown how 
the thing can be done, and what Togo did no British 
admiral need fear being unable to do. Close and 
vigilant as the watch on the enemy's ports may be, 
however, it is probable that single cruisers may make 
their escape from time to time, and even get clear 
away ; but if they are bent on commerce destroying 
their destination must needs be known within such 
narrow limits of approximation as have been 
indicated above. There they must be looked for, 
picked up, shadowed, and harried until they are finally 
brought to an action. Before that is done they will 
very probably have made a few captures or even 
many if our naval forces are insufficient or ill-disposed. 
But no one need suppose that any nation can go to 
war without incurring losses. The thing is to reduce 
the losses to a minimum, and that is done by a 
sufficiency of naval force, by strategic wisdom in its 
disposition, by incessant vigilance and tactical skill 
in its handling. The Admiralty has declared that if 
one or two cruisers should escape the surveillance 


of our squadrons we could always spare a superior 
number to follow them. There is no reason to fear 
that any future Alabama will be left unpursued for 
even as much time as her bunkers will allow her to 
keep the sea. 

The conclusions here reached are closely in accord 
with the view taken by the Admiralty in its com- 
munications with the Food Supply Commission. 
Some of these communications were confidential and 
have not been made public, but in a memorandum 
printed by the Commission the Admiralty laid down 
two broad general principles as deduced from the 
teaching of naval history: " 1. That the command 
of the sea is essential to the successful attack or 
defence of commerce, and should therefore be the 
primary aim. 2. That the attack or defence of 
commerce is best effected by iconcentration of force, 
and that a dispersion of force for either of those ob- 
jects is the strategy of the weak, and cannot materially 
influence the ultimate result of the war." With the 
strategy and dispositions best adapted for securing 
and maintaining the command of the sea — which must 
always be not merely the primary but the para- 
mount aim of this country — I am not here concerned. 
Concentration of force must, according to the Ad- 
miralty, be its indefeasible condition. The dispersion 
of force for the purpose of attacking commerce is, we 
are told, the strategy of the weak, and, it is added, 
that it would be not less the strategy of the weak to 
disperse force, in the first instance, for the defence 
of commerce. This might seem to imply that the 
stronger naval Power might safely and even, in 
certain circumstances, with advantage leave its com- 
merce to take care of itself until it is attacked. 
Paradoxical as this conclusion may seem, there is 
nevertheless no small element of truth in it. If it be 
true that an attack upon commerce by a Power which 
does not command the sea cannot materially influence 
the ultimate result of the war, that belligerent would 


be a fool who jeopardised his own command of the 
sea by dispersing his forces for the defence of com- 
merce to such an extent as to give his adversary an 
advantage in the main conflict. Conversely, the other 
belligerent would be still more a fool if, when his 
only hope, and that a slender one, of securing the 
command of the sea lay in the combination and con- 
centration of all his available forces, he dispersed any 
of them in pursuit of a strategic object which could 
not materially affect the ultimate result of the war. 
From this point of view there is no little wisdom in 
leaving commerce to take care of itself until it is 
attacked — first, because it cannot be attacked by the 
enemy without weakening his chance of obtaining the 
command of the sea; and, secondly, because if it is 
attacked the stronger belligerent will always be able 
to dispose of its assailants before they have done any 
irreparable damage. The strategic question here in- 
volved is not, however, to be settled by merely abstract 
considerations. It depends upon the concrete con- 
ditions of the particular conflict in hand. If the naval 
forces of this country are so superior to those of the 
adversary that the latter cannot hope to secure the 
command of the sea, and will not risk all in contend- 
ing for it, he will naturally turn to the alternative 
of attempting to harass British maritime commerce 
as much as possible. In that case it might be ex- 
pedient to guard the trade routes from the outset, 
but always and only on the condition that the main 
fleets are not thereby so weakened as to place their 
command of the sea in any jeopardy. If, on the other 
hand, the enemy's naval forces are so powerful as to 
compel this country to use all its forces to overawe 
or overpower them, then, since the defence of com- 
merce is merely a secondary object, and the command 
of the sea always the primary, and to this country 
the paramount, object of naval warfare, it stands to 
reason that the primary object must not in any way 
or to any degree be sacrificed to the secondary. The 


same reasoning applies to the weaker belligerent. So 
long as he has any chance, or thinks he has any 
chance, of obtaining the command of the sea he will 
be exceedingly chary of detaching from his main 
fleets, which alone can enable him to compass his 
purpose, any ship, either fit to lie in the line or 
qualified to serve him by scouting, for the purpose of 
preying on commerce ; and if she does not answer to 
one or other of these descriptions she will be a very 
inefficient commerce-destroyer at the best. The ship 
which is to prey upon commerce with any effect in 
these days will always have to be appreciably 
superior in speed, or else at least not inferior in 
armament, to any of those which are likely to be told 
off to defend it. 

Let us now consider how it will fare with a com- 
merce-destroyer thus detached, and compare the 
conditions of her warfare with those of her prede- 
cessors in the days of old. It may be presumed that 
she will start from the port or station in which the 
main forces of the enemy, or some considerable 
portion of them are concentrated for the purposes of 
the main conflict — for if she is known to be isolated 
and detached already, the port in which she is 
stationed is not likely to be left unobserved. The 
first thing she has to do is to get away undetected, or 
at least unmolested, and it must be assumed as a 
matter of course that any port in which a main fleet 
of the enemy is concentrated will be closely watched 
by a superior force of the British Fleet. Evasion is 
not easy in these circumstances, but it will now and 
again, perhaps not infrequently, be successfully ac- 
complished. Having regard to the port from which 
she issues, the trade routes which are nearest to it, 
and the limits of her coal-supply, it will not be difficult 
to determine her probable destination ; and even if 
she has escaped entirely undetected, her presence in 
this or that locality will soon be known by the non- 
arrival at home of merchant vessels she has captured, 



if not by the arrival in one of her own ports of her 
prizes for adjudication. In these days of telegraphs and 
universal publicity, proceedings such as these cannot 
long be kept secret. So far in the hypothetical case 
under consideration every advantage has been given 
to the commerce-destroyer. She has been allowed 
to escape undetected, to reach her cruising ground 
without mishap, and there to be unmolested until such 
time as the news of her depredations have reached this 
country. It need hardly be said that these favourable 
conditions will very rarely prevail in practice, but 
if we consider the worst case that could happen and 
see what it comes to, we shall be in a better position 
for considering any less extreme cases. 

Next, having got our commerce-destroyer on to her 
cruising station, let us consider what she can do 
there. It is by no means so easy a thing for a 
commerce-destroyer in these days to capture a 
merchant vessel and send her into port for ad- 
judication as it was in former times. The mere 
capture will, of course, be effected without difficulty. 
An unarmed merchant vessel has no choice but to 
surrender when summoned by an armed warship, and 
here it may be remarked parenthetically, that to arm 
a merchant vessel with a view to enabling her to 
resist must always be a very questionable policy in 
these days. She cannot by any feasible method of 
armament be made equal to the feeblest of cruisers 
likely to be employed in the attack on commerce, and 
any show of armed resistance will entitle her assailant 
to send her to the bottom without further parley. 
But assuming that she surrenders when summoned, 
what is the assailant then to do ? In the old days, 
any half-dozen seamen commanded by a midshipman 
or a warrant officer were competent to navigate the 
prize into port. They had only to disarm the crew 
and put them under hatches and the thing was done. 
Nowadays the complement of a man-of-war is very 
highly specialized, and, as a rule, no man-of-war 


carries more stokers and engine-room specialists than 
are required for the efficient working of the engines. 
As the assailant of commerce must always be ready 
to put forth her extreme speed in the very probable 
event of coming across an enemy, she will only part 
with any portion of her engine-room complement with 
very great reluctance. Every prize she makes in these 
circumstances materially impairs her own efficiency, 
and it is safe to say that she will make very few before 
she is at the end of her tether in this respect. It may 
be that very large cruisers will be able to provide in 
some measure against this contingency by shipping an 
extra complement at the outset. But their resources 
in this respect are strictly limited, not only by in- 
exorable conditions of space, but also by the considera- 
tion that the supply of skilled stokers and other 
engine-room specialists is by no means inexhaustible, 
and that their employment in this subsidiary operation 
of warfare must needs pro tanto impair the efficiency 
of the main fighting fleets. If a commerce-destroyer 
must carry the engine-room complement of some three 
or four ordinary men-of-war for the purpose of 
capturing about a dozen merchant ships of the enemy, 
and must run an appreciable risk of having them all 
taken prisoners or sent to the bottom before she 
has made a single capture, it may well be questioned 
whether the game will be found to be worth the 

But, it may be suggested, there is another alterna- 
tive. Instead of capturing the prizes and sending 
them into port for adjudication, the assailant may 
sink them without further ado. International Law 
sanctions this in certain contingencies, and no doubt 
it will sometimes be done even in defiance of Inter- 
national Law. But the proceeding is not without its 
difficulties and disadvantages. It entails the loss of 
all prize-money in respect of the ships so dealt with, 
and thereby it eliminates one of the strongest motives 
which actuated the commerce-destruction of the past. 


But besides this it requires the assailant to offer 
the hospitality of an already overcrowded ship to the 
crews of the vessels thus disposed of. There will 
be no great consideration shown to such prisoners, of 
course. But in any case they must be fed, and they 
must be accorded as much cubic space as will suffice, 
if only barely, to keep them alive until they can be 
disembarked. The crew of a single tramp will cause 
very little difficulty. But if the assailant happens 
to come across an Atlantic liner with 2,000 or 3,000 
persons on board, she is likely to find herself in a 
very awkward dilemma. If she determines to send 
her prize into port, she will have to provide an 
adequate prize crew for the purpose. If she determines 
to send her to the bottom, she must take on board, 
feed, and house all those 2,000 or 3,000 persons, and 
then her position if she has to fight an action will be 
no very enviable one. Perhaps the best thing for her 
to do would be to escort her prize into port. But 
this is to risk her own destruction as well as the 
recapture of the prize — which must be faced in any 
case — and it also withdraws her from her hunting 

There is yet another respect in which the modern 
commerce-destroyer is sharply differentiated from her 
predecessors in the past. They were propelled by 
sails and could keep the sea as long as their supply of 
food and other stores lasted, and this period may 
be put at not less than six months on the average. It 
is true that the supply of -water was limited and 
could only be replenished by a visit to the shore. 
But a fully equipped naval base was not necessary for 
this purpose, and there were many secluded places on 
neutral coasts where water could be clandestinely 
obtained by a belligerent ship with very little risk of 
prevention, or even of detection. The modern com- 
merce-destroyer, on the other hand, depends solely 
on steam, and must replenish her bunkers at least 
once a fortnight. Neutral ports are closed to her, for 


none but a very powerful and very benevolent neutral 
would risk the displeasure and possible retaliation 
of a belligerent in command of the sea by supplying 
the ships of the other belligerent with fuel to be 
immediately used in the further prosecution of their 
belligerent enterprises. If the commerce-destroyer's 
own ports are far distant she will use up no small 
percentage of her total coal supply in going to and fro ; 
and broadly it may be stated that if the distance from 
her base to her cruising ground is much more than a 
quarter of her radius of action as measured by her coal 
supply, she will be very slow to engage in the enter- 
prise at all. Let us suppose that it takes her three 
and a half days to get to her cruising ground, and, 
of course, the same time to get back. Allowing her 
fourteen days' total coal-supply, how long will she 
be able to stay there ? Certainly less than seven 
days, because she must always keep an appreciable 
amount of coal in reserve to meet the contingency of 
a sustained pursuit at topmost speed by an adver- 
sary, neither weaker nor slower than herself. It is 
hazardous to attempt to evaluate the amount of this 
reserve in exact figures, but it could hardly be less 
than two days' supply at normal speed, because at 
high speed the consumption of coal increases much 
more nearly in a geometrical than in an arithmetical 
ratio to the increment of speed attained. No captain 
of a man-of-war in his senses would ever allow his 
coal-supply in time of war to run down to a point at 
which it would only just suffice to take him back to 
his nearest port at economical speed. Hence, in the 
case supposed, the number of days for which a 
commerce-destroyer with a supply of coal for fourteen 
days on board could engage in her enterprise at a 
distance of three and a half days' steaming from her 
base would be five at the outside. Her only alternative 
would be to coal at sea. But this cannot be done in 
all localities, nor in any but the finest weather. The 
colliers must meet her at a pre-arranged rendezvous, 


and they are liable to capture in transit. If she takes 
them with her they may still be captured by an enemy 
who puts her to flight ; and even if at last she finds 
a place and a time at which she can coal without 
great difficulty, she is liable at any and every moment 
to be surprised by an enemy just when she is in the 
very worst trim either for fighting or for running 

It remains to consider the part likely to be played 
by torpedo-craft in the work of commerce-destruction. 
In the first place a torpedo-craft is incapable either 
of furnishing a prize crew to a captured vessel or of 
taking on board the crew of a merchant vessel of any 
but the smallest size. Her radius of action is also 
extremely limited, because in the daytime she is no 
match for any sea-going warship except in speed. 
Hence she will for the most part confine her operations 
to half the distance she can cover between dusk and 
dawn, and the limits of her cruising ground being 
thus defined, it will not be difficult for a belligerent 
in command of the sea to organize an offensive defence 
against her attacks which will render her operations, 
to say the least, extremely hazardous. It is true that 
there are certain regions of the Mediterranean in 
which British merchant vessels might, in certain 
contingencies, be exposed to assault from hostile 
torpedo-craft. But the limits of these regions are 
determined by the radius of action of the torpedo-craft 
as above defined, and until the menace of the torpedo- 
craft within these limits is abated by the offensive 
defence above mentioned, it may be necessary to 
direct British merchant vessels to keep outside them. 
This question was very fully considered by the Food 
Supply Commission in view of an opinion advanced 
in his evidence by Admiral Sir John Hopkins to the 
effect that " on the assumption of our Channel and 
Mediterranean Fleets being masters of the situation 
to a certain extent ... it is certain that a British 
ship could not go through the Mediterranean in those 


The phrase " being masters of the 
situation to a certain extent " is not very happily chosen. 
If it means that the fleets in question are in effective 
command of the sea, then it also must mean, ex vi 
termini, that the operations of any commerce-destroyer, 
whether cruiser or torpedo-craft, will assuredly be 
extremely hazardous within the area of command. 
If, on the other hand, it means anything less than 
this, then the assumption is totally at variance with 
the fundamental postulate that in any maritime war 
this country must command the sea or perish. It 
may be, indeed, that even when an effective command 
of the sea is established, it will be impossible, as Sir 
John Hopkins said, " to safeguard every route so 
minutely that hostile cruisers could not creep in on 
some part of it and molest our mercantile marine." 
So far as this is so it may perhaps serve in some 
measure to sustain the modified opinion subsequently 
expressed by Sir John Hopkins, to the effect that " a 
British ship could not go through the Mediterranean 
under the circumstances cited without running great 
risks." But on this it may be observed, first, that the 
risks run by the marauding cruisers are likely to be 
at least as great as those run by the mercantile 
marine ; and, secondly, that the more effective way of 
safeguarding the route threatened may very well be 
to watch the ports of exit of the marauders, with 
a sufficient force properly disposed and adapted for 
the purpose, rather than to patrol the route itself and 
wait for the marauders to appear. Be this as it may, 
it is worthy of note that Admiral Bridge, on being 
asked if he concurred in the opinion of Sir John 
Hopkins, replied, " Not at all " ; and that the Com- 
mission itself summed up the whole controversy 
as follows : " We may point out that in view of 
the geographical position of the principal maritime 
countries, British ships could scarcely be in any 
serious danger, except in the case of a war with 
France " — now, happily, a much more remote con- 


tingency than it was when the Commission was 
conducting its inquiries — " where they would be 
threatened with attack from the French torpedo-boat 
stations on the North African coast. Moreover, in 
this case the danger to commerce seems to be con- 
siderably less than would appear at first sight, when 
it is remembered that British vessels need not pass 
within one hundred miles of these stations, and that 
torpedo-craft are singularly ill-adapted for preying 
upon commerce. Such craft can neither spare prize- 
crews nor accommodate any one above their comple- 
ment number, so that if employed against commerce, 
they could only compel vessels to follow them into 
port on pain of being torpedoed. A French torpedo- 
boat which had captured a grain-ship in the Mediter- 
ranean would very likely have had to steam two 
hundred miles, the speed on the return journey being 
limited, of course, by the speed of the captured ship." 
It may be added that in this process of convoying the 
prize into port the torpedo-craft would run great risk 
of capture, with very little chance of escape. The 
only other waters which might seem to afford good 
hunting-ground for torpedo-craft bent on commerce- 
destroying are the English Channel and its approaches. 
But these are precisely the regions in which the British 
command of the sea is likely to be most effective and 
ubiquitous. Indeed, it may be affirmed, with some 
confidence, that so long as this country holds the 
effective command of the sea, hostile warships of any 
kind will be very chary of entering the Channel at 
all, and not very eager to approach it. Even in the 
contingency, now happily so remote, of a war with 
France, it must be remembered that torpedo-craft 
issuing from French ports in the Channel will be 
met by a sustained offensive defence on our part. If 
the experience, frequently repeated, of manoeuvres is 
any guide it would seem that such an offensive defence, 
skilfully organized and relentlessly pursued, very soon 
results in effectually abating the menace of hostile 


torpedo-craft. At Port Arthur, again, the Russian 
torpedo-craft did next to nothing, being completely 
overmatched by the offensive defence of the Japanese. 
It results, from the foregoing investigation, that, so 
long as this country retains an effective command of 
the sea, the maritime commerce of the whole Empire, 
though not entirely immune to injury and loss, will, 
on the whole, be exposed to far less risk than British 
maritime commerce had to incur in the war of the 
French Revolution and Empire. That risk has been 
estimated at not more than 2\ per cent, per annum 
on the total value of the commerce involved. This 
conclusion is established by the following considera- 
tions : 

1. All experience shows that commerce-destroying 
never has been, and never can be, a primary object 
of naval war. 

2. There is nothing in the changes which modern 
times have witnessed in the methods and appliances 
of naval warfare to suggest that the experience of 
former wars is no longer applicable. 

3. Such experience as there is of modern war 
points to the same conclusion and enforces it. 

4. The case of the Alabama, rightly understood, 
does not disallow this conclusion, but on the whole 
rather confirms it. 

5. Though the volume of maritime commerce has 
vastly increased, the number of units of naval force 
capable of assailing it has decreased in far greater 

6. Privateering is, and remains, abolished, not merely 
by the fiat of International Law, but by changes in 
the methods and appliances of navigation and naval 
warfare which have rendered the privateer entirely 

7. Maritime commerce is much less assailable than 
in former times, because the introduction of steam has 
confined its course to definite trade routes of extremely 
narrow width, and has almost denuded the sea of 


commerce outside these limits. The trade routes 
being defined, they are much more easy to defend, 
and much more difficult to assail. 

8. The modern commerce-destroyer is confined to 
a comparatively narrow radius of action by the in- 
exorable limits of her coal supply. If she destroys 
her prizes she must forgo the prize-money and find 
accommodation for the crews and passengers of the 
ships destroyed. If she sends them into port she 
must deplete her own engine-room complement, and 
thereby gravely impair her efficiency. 

9. Torpedo-craft are of little or no use for the 
purposes of commerce-destruction except in certain 
well-defined areas where special measures can be 
taken for checking their depredations. 

Of course, all this depends on the one fundamental 
assumption that the commerce to be defended belongs 
to a Power which can, and does, command the sea. 
On no other condition can maritime commerce be 
defended at all. But on no other condition can the 
British Empire exist. 

The foregoing essay was written early in 1906, and 
published in the Naval Annual in the spring of that 
year. In the summer of the same year the Admiralty 
organized a scheme of manoeuvres, the main purpose 
of which was to elucidate the problems involved in 
the attack and defence of commerce by experiment 
on a large scale at sea, so far as such experimental 
examination of them could be prosecuted under the 
limiting conditions necessarily incidental to a state 
of peace. Two great fleets — the Red and the Blue — 
were opposed to each other, and their relative 
strength is sufficiently indicated for my purpose in 
the table given below of their comparative losses 
throughout the operations. 

The "General Idea" of the operations was ex- 
pounded by the Admiralty as follows : 


The co-operation of the mercantile marine has been 

The general idea of the manoeuvres is based upon 
the assumption (for manoeuvre purposes) that war 
has broken out between a stronger naval power 
(Red), and a weaker but still formidable naval power 

Although under such circumstances the primary 
object of the Red Commander-in-Chief would be to 
seek out and defeat the Blue Fleet wherever it 
appeared, it is not to be expected that the Blue 
Commander-in-Chief would risk a general engage- 
ment with the Red Fleet unless he could bring to 
action a portion at a time, and under conditions 
favourable to himself. 

Among the steps that he would be likely to take 
to cause a dispersion of the Red Fleet, with a view to 
obtaining such an opportunity, the most likely to 
succeed would be an attack on the Red trade. 

In adopting this course he would count not only 
on the actual loss he would be able to inflict on his 
enemy, but also, if the Red nation was one largely 
dependent on its commerce, he would be able to 
reckon on creating a national panic which might 
compel the Red Commander-in-Chief to disperse his 
forces to an extent that neither the actual risk to 
commerce nor sound strategy would justify. 

The investigation of the actual risks to which the 
trade is likely to be exposed under these conditions, 
and of the best means of affording it protection 
without sacrificing the main object of taking every 
opportunity of bringing the enemy's fleet to action, 
is evidently of great importance not only to those 
who have to conduct the operations, but also to the 
mercantile community. 

An under-estimate of the risk to the trade and a 
too great concentration of the Red forces, might give 
the enemy the chance of inflicting great and avoidable 
loss on the merchant shipping, while, on the other 
hand, an over-estimate of the risk might lead to a 
great rise in the rate of insurance and an almost 
complete stoppage of trade, which would be more 
injurious to the country than any losses likely to be 
inflicted directly by the enemy. 


In either case a demand would probably arise on 
the part of the Red community for an injudicious 
dispersion of the Red forces on expeditions for the 
direct protection of trade, which would render them 
liable to be defeated in detail, and greatly reduce the 
chance of bringing the enemy's main fleet to action. 

In the Naval Annual for 1907 I reviewed the results 
of these operations. I append here such extracts 
from the remarks I then made as will enable my 
readers to judge how far my theoretical examination 
of the problem was or was not corroborated by a 
subsequent experimental study of it in the conditions 
prescribed by the Admiralty. 

The operations of the Blue side were very narrowly 
restricted. Practically they could be directed only 
against merchant vessels plying to and from Mediter- 
ranean and South Atlantic ports, and even within 
these limits the Blue forces were not allowed to attack 
the trade at the points of its greatest concentration — 
that is, in the immediate neighbourhood of its home 
ports or within the Gut of Gibraltar. Hence, for 
practical purposes, some position on the trade route 
between Ushant and Cape St. Vincent was designated 
and virtually prescribed as that which the main body 
of the Blue Fleet should take up in the pursuit of its 
purpose of preying upon British maritime commerce. 
Moreover, only a fraction — considerably less than 
25 per cent. — of the total amount of commerce 
travelling the trade route within the period of the 
operations was really assailable by the Blue forces. 
The trade route was traversed by upwards of four 
hundred vessels — either merchant steamers or war- 
ships representing merchant steamers — during the 
period in question. Of these only ninety-four in all 
— sixty merchant steamers and thirty-four warships — 
were liable to capture or destruction, and fifty-two 
of them, or 55 per cent., were actually captured before 
the operations came to an end. . . . 

Of the several squadrons and divisions assigned 


to the Blue side, the Battle Squadron and Second 
and Fifth Cruiser Squadrons were told off by the 
Blue Commander-in-Chief to operate off the coast of 
Portugal in what may be called an oceanic attack on 
the trade. The Sixth Cruiser Squadron and all the 
Destroyer Divisions, except that at Lagos, together 
with the Submarine Flotilla, were left to operate nearer 
home with the Blue home ports as their bases. Their 
fate was significant, and may be here recorded. . . . 
Of the Fifth Cruiser Squadron the five torpedo-gun- 
boats were put out of action during the course of the 
operations without having made any captures at all. 
The Sappho and Scylla alone survived. The Sappho 
captured three merchant vessels and the Scylla seven. 
These two ships afford a striking illustration of the 
amount of damage to commerce that isolated vessels 
can do — so long as they are unmolested — even in 
waters strongly occupied by a greatly superior naval 
force. Their captures were all effected either at the 
mouth of the English Channel or within about a 
hundred miles south-west of Ushant. It seems 
probable that they managed to hit some point on the 
u clearly defined route " outside the ordinary trade 
route which was assigned by the Red Commander- 
in-Chief to merchant vessels associated in groups ; 
and their success seems to suggest that a guerre de 
course conducted by isolated ships engaged on a 
roving cruise is by no means out of date yet. Between 
them the Sappho and the Scylla account for very 
nearly one-fifth, that is little less than 20 per cent., 
of all the captures effected by the Blue side. Both 
survived to the end, the Sappho making the first 
capture of the war, and very nearly the last. It 
must be added, however, that had the war been a 
real and a lasting one these two vessels would very 
soon have reached the end of their tether. The low 
enduring mobility — that is, the limited coal capacity 
—of the modern warship compels it to return very 
frequently to a base for coal. It is more than pro- 


bable that when the Sappho and the Scylla reached 
this point, they would have found the access to their 
base closely barred by the already victorious forces 
of the enemy. 

Of the thirty-one destroyers assigned to the Blue 
side, five stationed at Lagos and the rest in Blue home 
ports, eighteen, or 58 per cent., were lost in the course 
of the operations, and only thirteen survived. Of the 
five destroyers at Lagos, three were lost, but not before 
they had captured four merchant vessels, and their 
loss was more than counterbalanced by the loss to 
the Red side of four out of the five Mediterranean 
destroyers operating off Lagos. Of the twenty-six 
Blue destroyers operating from home ports, fifteen 
were lost, but the several flotillas accounted for the 
capture of nine merchant vessels, while of the Red 
forces, two cruisers and five destroyers were adjudged 
to have been put out of action by Blue destroyers. 
The Submarine Flotilla did nothing, and suffered no 
damage throughout the operations. Its opportunity 
might have come if any of the Blue ports had been 
blockaded by the Red side. But that phase of the 
operations was never reached, though it was well in 
sight before the manoeuvres came to an end. 

It is a fact of no little significance that of the fifty- 
two merchant vessels finally captured or sunk by the 
Blue side, nine were captured or sunk by two cruisers 
operating singly, and twelve were captured or sunk 
by a few destroyers operating in pairs or in small 
groups. In other words, the guerre de course proper 
prosecuted by these insignificant vessels — for the two 
cruisers were unarmoured third-class cruisers — ac- 
counted for twenty-one out of fifty-two captures in 
all — that is, for just over 40 per cent. These figures 
might at first sight be taken to imply that the guerre 
de course is still best conducted in this way, and that 
the comparatively slow, weak, unarmoured cruiser 
may still, as Admiral Custance, the distinguished 
author of Naval Policy contends, have an important 


function to discharge in war. But before these con- 
clusions are accepted we have to look at the operations 
as a whole, and to bear in mind that the time assigned 
to them was not sufficient to afford a complete view 
of the strategic conditions involved, nor of the final 
results to which these conditions must inevitably have 
led. It is the recorded opinion of the chief umpire 
that " it is practically certain that the commencement 
of the third week of the war would have seen all 
commerce-destroying ships either captured or block- 
aded in defended ports." If that is so, it is clear that 
the rate of capture maintained for a few days by the 
cruisers and destroyers in question must in a few 
days longer have fallen to zero. We have also to 
consider that the Red Commander-in-Chief very 
properly made it his chief and primary business to 
seek out and engage the main body of the Blue Fleet, 
well knowing that, as Nelson said, if the trunk was 
destroyed, the branches would perish with it. With 
this task in hand he could well afford to neglect the 
sporadic guerre de course of his adversaries, in the 
assured confidence that as soon as his own command 
of the sea was firmly established the marauding vessels 
would very quickly be disposed of. In the! opinion 
of the chief umpire this confidence was justified. It 
may further be doubted whether in real war the 
capture or destruction of merchant vessels by des- 
troyers will be found to be as feasible as it was made 
to appear during the manoeuvres. But this question 
is fully discussed in the preceding essay, and need not 
here be reopened. 

11 The Blue Commander-in-Chief," says the comment 
of the Admiralty on the operations, "was directed to 
carry out a plan of campaign which is generally 
allowed to be strategically unsound." The meaning 
of this seems to be that it was suggested in the 
" General Idea " that he would probably seek to cause 
a dispersion of the Red Fleet, and with that object he 
would organize an attack on the Red trade as the 


best means available to tempt the Red side to divide 
its forces and so give him a chance of engaging a 
portion of it at a time. As a rule, it may be said that 
an inferior naval force will not take the sea unless it 
means to fight. It is clear that the Blue Commander- 
in-Chief did not mean to fight if he could help it, or 
unless he could encounter a detached forced of the 
enemy over which he could gain a decisive advantage 
before the latter could be reinforced. It would, there- 
fore, be strategically unsound for him to take the sea 
at all with his Battle Squadron, unless he held, as 
apparently he did, that the instructions of the Admiralty 
required him to use his whole force in an organized 
and simultaneous attack on the Red trade. On that 
assumption practically only one course was open to 
him — to occupy some portion of the trade route suffi- 
ciently removed from the Red bases to give him at 
least a chance of maintaining his position long enough 
to enable him to create a panic at home by the 
interruption and destruction of the floating trade. 
Such a position could not be near the entrance to the 
Channel, because that region was sure to be occupied 
in overwhelming force by the Red forces opposed 
to him. It must, therefore, be off the coast of the 
Peninsula, and not south of Cape St. Vincent, because 
the South Atlantic trade was not to be molested south 
of that latitude, and Cape St. Vincent was, moreover, 
in the immediate neighbourhood of his protected base 
at Lagos. Hence, if he adopted this plan of campaign, 
it was practically certain that his main force would, 
sooner or later, be found in the occupation of the 
trade route off the coast of Portugal. He did adopt 
this plan, and, viewing the situation as he did, it may 
be conceded, with the Admiralty, that, " he achieved 
his mission with great ability." It is, however, as the 
same authority points out, " open to question whether 
he might not have achieved a greater measure of 
success by the employment of his cruisers only for 
the guerre de course, and the concentration of his 


battleships for attacks upon the line of the Red 
Admiral's communications." . . . 

Regarded in the abstract as a means for the inter- 
ception and destruction of floating commerce, nothing 
could be better than the disposition adopted by the 
Blue Commander-in-Chief, the nature of which may 
be gathered from the annexed chart reproduced from 
the official report on the operations. It spread a 
net through which no merchant vessel could pass 
without being detected in ordinary weather, because 
if any one line was passed in the night, the next, which 
was about a hundred and thirty miles distant, must be 
passed in the daytime. It permitted of rapid con- 
centration by one line or another if the merchant 
vessels were accompanied by warships, and though 
it exposed the battleship line to some risk of being 
overpowered in detail before the ships could be effec- 
tively concentrated for action, yet it placed a screen 
of cruisers so far ahead and astern of this line as to 
render such a risk almost infinitesimal in these days 
of wireless telegraphy. But, regarded in the concrete, 
the disposition is open to the fatal criticism that it 
must forthwith be dislocated and broken up as soon 
as the enemy appears in force. If the proof of the 
pudding is in the eating, this criticism is conclusive 
and final. It was not until the morning of June 27 
that the ships were all in their stations. Before dark 
on that same day scarcely one of them remained 
there. The Battle Squadron was partly concentrated 
and partly captured or dispersed. The Fifth Cruiser 
Squadron was flying in all directions. The Second 
Cruiser Squadron was steaming as hard as it could 
for Lagos. . . . 

In making this ill-fated disposition the Blue Com- 
mander-in-Chief was no doubt largely influenced by 
the instructions he had received from the Admiralty, 
which were in effect — as defined by myself as the corre- 
spondent of The Times attached to the Blue side — " to 
endeavour to use his fleets, as a real enemy would 



in like circumstances, for the purpose of causing a 
commercial crisis in England by the destruction rather 
than the capture of British merchant steamers, with a 
view to employing his fleets to advantage at a later 
stage if this measure had the desired effect of causing 
any dispersal of the British forces." But if this was 
his purpose it was not fulfilled. The dispositions made 
off the coast of Portugal were very ineffectual for 
the destruction of commerce, as may be seen from the 
list of captures, and very disastrous to the ships and 
squadrons taking part in them. Nor had they any 
appreciable effect in causing a dispersal of the British 
forces. Hence there is no little force in the suggestion 
of the Admiralty that the Blue Commander-in-Chief 
might have " achieved a greater measure of success 
by the employment of his cruisers only for the guerre 
de course and the concentration of his battleships for 
attacks upon the Red Admiral's communications." 

It remains to give the results of the campaign as 
tabulated in the official " Summary of Red and Blue 
losses," and then, to quote the comments of the 
Admiralty. The comparative losses of the two sides 
are given in the following table : 



a . 

a • 

Class of Ship. 

t: « "i 

« p a, 
b 5 - 





« OS 






■2 a s 

2 v w 












a V tn 

3 9.S 






Battleships . . 










Cruisers . . . 









Other Cruisers . 









Scouts .... 









Torpedo Gun- 

boats .... 









Destroyers . . 








5 8-0 

These figures speak for themselves. The official 


comments also speak for themselves ; the only remark 
to be made on them is that the destruction of com- 
merce in the face of a hostile command of the sea 
would probably be found in actual war to be a much 
more difficult business than the manoeuvres made it 
appear. If that is so, it would seem that the risks 
involved are not likely to be greater than could be 
covered by insurance, if only owners and under- 
writers can be induced to keep their heads. 

Admiralty Remarks 

The manoeuvres were deprived of much of their 
value owing to the small proportion of merchant 
vessels which accepted the Admiralty terms for taking 

The percentage of loss of merchant vessels was 
high (55 per cent), and would appear alarming were 
it not for the fact that this success of Blue was only 
achieved at the expense of the complete disorganisation 
of his fighting forces, and that, as stated by the chief 
umpire, had hostilities continued, " it is practically 
certain that the commencement of the third week of 
the war would have seen all commerce-destroying 
ships either captured or blockaded in their defended 

It is probable also that the percentage of loss 
would have been very considerably lower had it been 
possible for all the merchant ships traversing the 
manoeuvre area, to the number of upwards of four 
hundred, to take a part in the proceedings. As it 
was, the attack of the twenty-seven battleships and 
cruisers and thirty destroyers of the Blue Fleet was 
concentrated upon the inadequate number of sixty 
merchant steamers and thirty-four gunboats and 
destroyers representing merchant steamers ; in con- 
sequence, the actual percentage of loss is misleading, 
and affords little or no basis for calculation of the 
risks of shipping in time of war. It should also be 
noted that considerations of expense and the fact that 
the attacking fleet was on the seaward flank of the 
trade routes prevented wide detours being made for 
the purpose of avoiding capture. 


The summary of Red and Blue losses will show the 
cost of a guerre de course against a superior naval 
power, and proves that although a temporary com- 
mercial crisis might possibly be caused in London 
by this form of attack, the complete defeat of the 
aggressor could not be long delayed, with the result 
that public confidence would be quickly re-established 
and the security of British trade assured. 

To make an enemy's trade the main object of attack, 
while endeavouring to elude his fighting ships, is 
generally recognised as being strategically incorrect 
from the purely naval point of view, and this procedure 
could only be justified if there were reason to suppose 
the hostile Government could by such action be 
coerced into a mis-direction of their strategy or 
premature negotiations for conclusion of hostilities. 

As it was considered desirable, however, that the 
risks to British shipping should be examined under 
the most unfavourable conditions conceivable, the 
Blue Commander-in-Chief was directed to carry out 
a plan of campaign which is generally allowed to be 
strategically unsound, and there is no doubt that, 
fettered as he was by these limitations, he achieved 
his mission with great ability, though it is open to 
question whether he might not have achieved a greater 
measure of success by the employment of his cruisers 
only for the guerre de course and the concentration 
of his battleships for attacks upon the line of the Red 
Admiral's communications. 


I MUST begin my lecture with an acknowledgment 
and an apology — an acknowledgment of the high 
honour done me by your commandant and your 
professor of military history in inviting me to address 
so well-informed and, I hope, so critical a professional 
audience as yourselves on a subject connected with 
your profession ; and an apology for my audacity in 
accepting their invitation. I am neither a sailor nor 
a soldier ; I am an outsider to both those noble pro- 
fessions, though I have devoted some time and thought 
to the study of their higher functions and relations. 
You will bear with me if I say many things which 
you know as well as I do, and some things which 
may provoke your dissent. I have no dogmas to 
propound. My sole object is to offer you some food 
for reflection and, perhaps, some material for profitable 
discussion among yourselves. If I can attain that 
object I shall not regret my audacity, and I am sure 
you will forgive it. 

The subject of my lecture is what has been called 
" The Higher Policy of Defence." By this I under- 
stand the due co-ordination of all the agencies of 
warfare, naval and military, offensive and defensive, 
and their intelligent adaptation to the conditions 
historical, geographical, political, and economical, of 
the countries, states, or Powers supposed to be 

1 A lecture delivered by request at the Royal Staff College, 
Camberley, on December 9, 1902, and printed in the National 
Review, January, 1903. 



engaged in war. It will be seen at once that the 
problem of defence so conceived cannot be studied 
in the abstract. We cannot disengage it from its 
circumstances and conditions. For instance, the pro- 
blem of defence for a country like Switzerland, which 
has no seaboard, must differ fundamentally from the 
problem of defence for a Power like the British Empire, 
which is essentially a maritime Power, having no land 
frontiers except such as are in the last resort defensible 
only through the agency of sea power. These two 
cases are perhaps the extreme limits within which 
the problem of defence varies for different countries. 
On the one hand we have a country which has no 
direct interest in the sea at all, which has nothing 
but land frontiers to defend and nothing but land 
forces to defend them withal ; on the other, we have 
a country with vital interests in every quarter and 
on all the seas of the earth, which can neither defend 
itself nor attack its enemies without crossing the sea. 
I say it cannot defend itself without crossing the sea 
because that is a very poor conception of national, 
to say nothing of Imperial defence, which regards its 
primary object as the defence of our own shores. 
That might be, and, indeed, would be, our ultimate 
object if all else were lost. But before that object 
could even come into view our Empire would be at 
an end. The British Empire, it has been well said, 
is the gift of sea power. By sea power it has been 
won, by sea power it must be defended. This is not 
to say that it must or can be defended by naval force 
alone. On the contrary, that would be as fatal a mis- 
take as to say that the problem of defence for England 
is concerned primarily with the defence of these 
shores. A few years ago we had to defend ourselves 
in South Africa. We should never have effected our 
purpose if we had relied on naval force alone. On 
the other hand, we should never even have begun 
to effect it if the seas had not been open to us. Sea 
power and naval force are not convertible terms. 


Naval force is that particular agency of warfare which 
takes the sea for its field of operations ; military force 
is that particular agency of warfare which takes the 
land for its field of operations. Both are essential ele- 
ments of sea power. Both are equally indispensable 
factors in any rational study of the problem of defence 
presented by the British Empire. The whole problem 
consists in co-ordinating their respective and character- 
istic functions, and in so applying their respective 
and characteristic agencies as to obtain the greatest 
effect from the least expenditure of energy. The 
higher policy of defence is, in fact, a problem in the 
economics of warfare. 

I cannot pretend to offer anything like a complete 
solution of this tremendous problem within the limits 
of a lecture. I can only attempt to determine a few 
of its fundamental data, and, if it may be, to indicate 
the direction in which its solution must be looked 
for. I am confronted at the outset with a difficulty 
of nomenclature. For my particular purpose the 
word " defence " is, I must acknowledge, not very 
well chosen. From a political point of view it is, 
indeed, not only correct but indispensable. Of purely 
aggressive warfare, of wanton and unprovoked attacks 
on the rights, liberties, or territories of other nations 
I am not here to speak at all. Such warfare finds 
no place in the higher policy of defence. From a 
military point of view, on the other hand, the word 
" defence " tends unduly to confine our attention to 
only one branch, and that by no means the more 
important branch, of the operations of warfare. It is 
hardly a paradox to say that all defence is attack. 
It is nothing but the truth to say that attack is by 
far the most effective form of defence. " The more 
you hurt the enemy," said Farragut, " the less likely 
he is to hurt you " ; and all operations of warfare 
between belligerents of anything like equal power are 
conducted on this principle. The belligerent who 
acts purely on the defensive is already more than half 


beaten, and is probably only holding out in the hope 
either of receiving assistance from without or of his 
assailant becoming exhausted. In either case the 
offensive is resumed the moment it becomes possible. 
In any other case, the issue is fore-ordained. For 
this reason no two nations are likely to go to war 
unless each expects to overcome the other. For any 
object less paramount than national existence no 
nation will go to war well knowing beforehand that 
it must be beaten. If national existence is at stake 
it will, of course, prefer to perish fighting. That is 
the only case in which from a military point of view 
a belligerent will act on the defensive, and then only 
so far as he needs must. From a political point of 
view, on the other hand, defence, and defence only, 
is the sole object of all warlike preparation ; but even 
so, as soon as issue is joined, defence will always in 
the first instance take the form of attack. 

Of entrance to a quarrel ; but, being in, 
Bear it that the opposer may beware of thee. 

This, then, is one fundamental datum of the higher 
policy of defence, and from it we may proceed with 
little dispute or difficulty to another. War reduces 
human relations to their simplest and most primitive 
form. It is a conflict of wills ending in a trial of 
strength. Each belligerent seeks to invade the 
territory of the other for the purpose of attacking 
his armed forces, and, if it may be, of defeating them. 
No conflict can take place until the common frontier 
has been passed by one belligerent or the other, and, 
as the fortune of war decides, the more successful of 
the two must needs advance further and further into 
the territory of the other, his ultimate object being 
to occupy the capital in which are concentrated the 
powers of government and the control of the state's 
resources. But no army can advance for a single 
day's march into an enemy's territory unless either 


it carries its own supplies, or can exact them from 
the enemy, or can organize a secure and continuous 
system of transport whereby its daily needs can be 
satisfied. To carry its own supplies for a lengthened 
campaign is impracticable. To exact them from the 
enemy in any sufficient measure is out of the question, 
and in respect of munitions of war quite impossible. 
Hence a system of continuous supply along a secure 
line of communication is the only practicable expedient. 
It follows from this again that the line of advance 
into an enemy's territory must be determined by the 
indefeasible necessity of checking and, if it may be, of 
defeating the armed forces of the enemy, and thereby 
of making it impossible for them to interrupt the 
communications of the assailant. In the war of 1870 
the Prussian armies had contained one French army 
at Metz and compelled another to surrender at Sedan 
before they advanced on Paris. I suppose no one 
will contend that until this had been done Paris could 
have been invested. 

I have started with an analysis of the simplest 
conditions of warfare on land because that is the kind 
of warfare with which soldiers are professionally most 
familiar, and because, addressing an audience of 
soldiers, I shall hope to carry you more readily with 
me along the line of advance I propose to follow if 

I make no assumptions to begin with to which you 
are likely to take exception. We have seen first that 
attack is the most effective form of defence, and 
secondly that the further the attack is pushed the 
more absolutely does it depend on the security of 
the line of communication. There is a third condition, 
equally fundamental, perhaps, but much more difficult 
to determine in the abstract. " War," said Napoleon, 

II is an affair of positions." It is the special function 
of the strategic faculty to determine first, what is 
the most advantageous line of advance for an army 
seeking to invade an enemy's territory ; secondly, what 
are the positions which make one line of advance 


more advantageous than another ; and thirdly, what 
is the best way of seizing those positions and turning 
them to full advantage. All this would be simple 
enough if the armed forces of the enemy could be left 
out of account. But it must be assumed, of course, 
that he on his part is seeking to do precisely the same 
thing, so that at every stage of the campaign the 
position and probable intentions of the enemy are 
the dominant factors in the situation. So much being 
premised, let us consider how far and in what way 
these fundamental conditions are affected by trans- 
ferring the initial stages of the conflict from the land 
to the sea. I will assume, for simplicity's sake, that 
the two belligerents have no common land frontier, 
so that neither can attack the other or any of the 
other's possessions without first crossing the sea. I 
will assume further that both are largely engaged 
in maritime commerce, and that this commerce is 
carried on, for the most part, in ships flying their 
own flags. It is obvious that if both have navies 
the first contact and conflict between two such 
belligerents must take place on the sea, and the 
question is, in what position each belligerent would 
desire it to take place — war being an affair of 
positions — if the choice lay with him ? It will hardly 
be disputed that each belligerent would desire it 
to take place as near as possible to the shores of the 
other. He would desire to place his fleets in effec- 
tive contact with the ports in which the enemy's 
fleets were lying, holding himself in readiness at all 
times to fight the latter if they came out, and making 
all practicable dispositions for preventing their exit 
without being compelled to fight. By this means, 
so long as they remained in port he would secure 
his own shores from assault and his own maritime 
commerce from attack, and he could employ such 
naval force of his own as remained available after 
providing for an effective watch on the enemy's ports 
in attacking the enemy's commerce so far as it re- 


mained at large. If he is not strong enough to do 
this he is not strong enough to act offensively on 
the seas, still less to attack his enemy across the 
seas. He must be content to see his. fleets sealed up 
in their ports by the superior fleets of his enemy, and 
his maritime commerce either transferred to a neutral 
flag or else swept from the seas altogether. There 
is in the nature of things no other way of opening 
a war between two belligerents which have no 
common land frontier. If each thinks himself stronger 
than the other both may take the sea at once, but 
even then no military enterprise of any moment is 
likely to be undertaken until the naval issue is decided, 
however long it takes to decide it. If either falters 
or hesitates to take the sea until it is too late the 
other will take care that, if ever he does take the 
sea, he will do so under every disadvantage of 

If I have carried you with me so far, I hope I may 
now ask you to go with me a step further and to 
assent to the proposition that the operations of war- 
fare on land and at sea are essentially identical in 
purpose, though their methods and appliances differ 
very materially and, at first sight, fundamentally. 
What is it that a nation aims at, and must of necessity 
aim at, when it goes to war ? It is, and must be, 
to bend its enemy's will to its own, to exact what 
it holds to be its right, to obtain that which the 
enemy has refused to concede except on the com- 
pulsion of force. There is only one way of doing 
this, and that is by overcoming the armed forces of 
the enemy, which are the symbol, and in the last 
resort, the instrument, of his authority. Now, to 
overcome these armed forces you must attack them, 
and to attack them you must reach them. That is 
why the first overt act of warfare between two 
countries which have a common land frontier is the 
crossing of the frontier by the armed forces of one 
belligerent or the other. The procedure and the pur- 


pose are essentially the same when the two countries 
are separated by the sea. If one of the two belligerents 
has no naval force at all, the other will invade his 
territory and attack his armed forces on land. This, 
however, is not naval warfare ; it is land warfare 
conducted across the sea. Such was essentially the 
character of the late war in South Africa. Naval 
force in this case operated on its own element only 
indirectly, so as to guarantee the security of transit 
and communication, but it operated most powerfully, 
nevertheless, because, if the naval force available had 
been insufficient, the security of transit and com- 
munication necessary to the success of our troops 
might have been fatally impaired by the intervention 
of some other naval power which sympathized and 
might have sided with the enemy. The condition 
of naval warfare proper, however, only arises when 
both belligerents are equipped with naval force. In 
that case, though the ulterior purpose of hostilities 
remains unchanged, it will be found that no opera- 
tions on land can be undertaken by either belligerent 
until the naval issue has been virtually decided — 
the assumption still being, of course, that the two 
belligerents have no common land frontier. This, I 
think, follows irresistibly from the foregoing pre- 
misses. We have seen that in order to obtain the 
objects for which he goes to war one belligerent or 
the other must advance into the territory of his 
opponent, and must come to close quarters with the 
armed forces of the latter. We have seen that he 
cannot do this unless his communications are secure, 
and that his advance must instantly be arrested and 
turned into a retreat with capitulation as his only 
alternative if his communications are severed. The 
absolute dependence on its communications of an 
armed force in an enemy's country is, I believe, a 
commonplace with all soldiers — an axiom of the 
military art. This axiom loses not a jot of its validity 
when applied to offensive warfare across the sea. 


Before an armed force of any magnitude can land 
on an enemy's territory across the seas there must 
be no hostile naval force at large strong enough to 
interrupt its communications. Any such force must 
be found, fought, and beaten if it is at large, or 
else it must be securely sealed within its own ports 
by an opposing force strong enough to keep it there 
and ready to fight it if it comes out. 1 

There is one great historical example which seems 
at first sight to violate this axiom. Napoleon did 
succeed in reaching Egypt with his army across 
the Mediterranean without having first disposed 
of the British naval force in the Mediterranean. 
But he only did so at tremendous risk, and he 
only succeeded — so far as he did succeed — by 
an accident. A few more frigates at Nelson's dis- 
posal would have placed his fleet across the path 
of the expedition, and in that case it is safe to say 
that no single French soldier would ever have 
landed in Egypt. The whole scheme of campaign 
was radically faulty, and nothing but the destruction 
of Nelson's fleet by Brueys — either before the ex- 
pedition had started or immediately after it had 
landed — could have given it a chance of success. 
But after the battle of the Nile had been fought 
and won by Nelson, the French army in Egypt was 
doomed. It was a Frenchman in Egypt who wrote 
that the battle of the Nile " is a calamity which 
leaves us here as children totally lost to the mother 
country. Nothing but peace can restore us to her." 

1 It may be objected that a close military blockade of the enemy's 
ports, such as was maintained by the British fleets during the 
Napoleonic war, is no longer possible owing to the development 
of torpedo craft and submarine mines. The objection is a valid 
one so far as it goes. But the difficulties, though formidable, are 
not insurmountable. Togo surmounted them throughout the war 
in the Far East, as I have pointed out in the preceding essay. 
The so-called blockade will be of a character different from that 
which was maintained in the Great War, but Togo's example shows 
that it need not be less effective. 


Nothing but peace did restore them. Baffled at Acre, 
deserted by Napoleon and Desaix, cut off from sup- 
plies, ammunition, and reinforcements, they finally 
capitulated to the number of three-and-twenty thou- 
sand, and were carried back to France in British 
transports just before the conclusion of the Peace 
of Amiens. 

It may be that Napoleon was warned by this bitter 
experience not to attempt the invasion of England 
without first securing the naval command of the 
Channel. Certainly he made this at all times a sine 
qua non. Sometimes it was a few weeks he required, 
sometimes only a few hours, but at no time did he 
think that he could safely carry his troops across 
the Channel in the face of a hostile naval force. He 
was, as Sir Vesey Hamilton has shown, confronted 
at all times with a British naval force in the waters 
adjacent to his ports of exit sufficient to make the 
enterprise of invasion exceedingly hazardous, if not 
absolutely hopeless. He could do nothing until this 
opposing force was swept away. Of course, if the 
outlying fleets opposed to him — those off Toulon, 
Brest, and the other French arsenals — could have been 
defeated, the victorious French fleets might have 
advanced up the Channel and have covered his transit. 
But this he was never able to bring about. Or, as a 
much more hazardous alternative, he may have hoped 
that the outlying French fleets, without defeating the 
British fleets opposed to them, might be able to give 
them the slip, and, getting the start of them, to give 
him the time he needed to get his army across. This, 
however, proved equally impracticable. There was 
a moment, as he saw himself, when Villeneuve might 
have given him the opportunity he desired. But 
Villeneuve's nerve failed him ; he could not rise to 
the height of Napoleon's bold conceptions. He with- 
drew to Cadiz instead of either fighting or stealing 
his way into the Channel. It was then and many 
weeks before Trafalgar was fought that the Army of 


Boulogne was broken up and its columns were directed 
upon Austria to crush that Power at Austerlitz. 

But while the great fleets of both belligerents were 
far away — none nearer than Brest, and two of them 
for a time in the West Indies — and while they were 
preoccupied with their own immediate objects, strategic 
and tactical, why, it may be asked, did not Napoleon 
seize the opportunity of their absence and preoccupa- 
tion to transport his invading army across the Channel ? 
For two reasons. Napoleon could not ignore the 
presence of a formidable naval force in home waters, 
although nearly all the commentators on the campaign 
have ignored it, and some even have denied its exis- 
tence. Napoleon must have felt and acknowledged 
that this force denied him access to the shores of 
England, and that unless he could get rid of it for a time 
it was not possible for him even to embark his troops, 
to say nothing of landing them. The situation was 
exactly the same at the time of the Armada. There was 
Parma in Flanders with his army, and, like Napoleon, 
Parma had collected abundance of transport to carry 
his troops over to England. But between him and the 
coast of England there lay a Dutch fleet, not always 
directly in the way, but never altogether out of the 
way, and Parma, like Napoleon, found it impossible 
to move. He awaited the arrival of Sidonia with the 
Armada to cover his passage, and as Sidonia was 
defeated as soon as he arrived — if not before — the 
whole enterprise came to nought. This, moreover, 
gives us the second reason why Napoleon could not 
move. The hazard was too great, and the memory 
of Egypt was too fresh. It was barely possible, though 
it was never very likely, that Villeneuve, had he been 
a better man, might have evaded the outlying British 
fleets and might have swept and kept the Channel for 
such a time as would have enabled Napoleon and his 
army to cross. But this would only have been a 
repetition of the Egyptian campaign, and Napoleon 
was not likely to forget how that had ended. It must 


have taught him that a military expedition which 
crosses the sea without having first made its com- 
munications secure is never likely to recross it except 
by favour of its enemies. The decisive naval battle 
might, in the case supposed, have been fought in the 
Channel and not at Trafalgar ; but we know from the 
result of Trafalgar how it must have ended. At any 
rate, we may safely assume that Napoleon held two 
conditions to be essential not only to the success of 
his enterprise, but even to its prudent initiation — first, 
that the Channel should be free, if only for a time ; 
and, second, that his communications should be secure, 
if not absolutely, then at least for so much time as he 
might deem sufficient to enable him to dictate peace 
in London before they were seriously assailed. As 
neither condition was ever fulfilled, the enterprise 
was never undertaken. Is it too much to assume 
that what Napoleon never dared no other man ever 
will dare ? 

Perhaps no man, save one, ever has dared a like 
enterprise with impunity. That man was Julius 
Caesar ; and Napoleon, as we know, was a great 
admirer of Caesar's genius and a great student of his 
campaigns. Caesar in his final campaign against 
Pompey had little or no naval force of his own ; 
certainly none that could make head for a moment 
against the Pompeian fleet, which was in undisputed 
command of the Adriatic. Yet although he was 
blockaded at Brundusium, he managed to escape 
with half his army, and, landing on the coast of Epirus, 
he established himself there to the southward of 
Dyrrhachium, a Pompeian stronghold which he was 
never able to reduce. His transports were sent back 
to bring over the remainder of his army under Mark 
Antony, but they were all captured on the way and 
destroyed. For some time Antony was blockaded 
in Brundusium, but, like Caesar, he effected his escape 
in the end and landed to the northward of Dyrrhach- 
ium, the army of Pompey resting on that stronghold 


and intervening between the two detached portions 
of Caesar's force. A junction was effected, however, 
and for a time Caesar invested Dyrrhachium on the 
landward side. The sea being open to Pompey, his 
supplies were abundant and secure, whereas Caesar, 
being cut off from it, was compelled to live on the 
country, and his troops fared hardly enough. An 
untoward reverse having compromised Caesar's 
position at Dyrrhachium, he marched into Thessaly, 
whither Pompey tardily followed him. The campaign 
ended with the battle of Pharsalus, where Pompey 
was finally overthrown. 

It has been suggested that Napoleon's plans for the 
invasion of England were inspired by a study of this 
campaign, and that he persuaded himself that he could 
do what Caesar had done. But the analogy halts in 
at least three important respects. Caesar had no 
alternative. If he could not destroy Pompey it was 
certain that Pompey would destroy him. He could 
not remain in Italy and rest content with his posses- 
sion of Gaul and his conquests of Spain and Sicily, 
because Pompey, being in command of the sea and 
in possession of the resources of the East, would 
sooner or later have attacked him there, and Caesar 
was too good a soldier to remain on the defensive so 
long as the offensive was open to him in any way — 
even in the most desperate way. Secondly, the war 
was a civil one, in which the inhabitants of the invaded 
country were practically neutral, as is shown by the 
readiness with which they furnished Caesar with such 
supplies as they had. Thirdly, so long as the Roman 
soldier retained his sword, he carried his ammunition 
with him. I need not point out to an audience of 
soldiers how greatly the problem of transport is 
simplified, and even how largely the necessity for 
secure communications is abated, for an army which 
needs no ammunition save what it carries as a matter 
of course, and does not expend in fighting, and no 
food beyond what the inhabitants of the country in 



which it is fighting are willing and able to supply. 
If Napoleon thought of the example of Caesar at all, 
we may be quite sure that he did not overlook 
considerations of this kind. 

The proposition that oversea attack of a military 
character is best prevented by naval force, and can 
with certainty be prevented by adequate naval force 
properly disposed for the purpose, is, I think, more 
familiar and more acceptable to sailors than it is to 
soldiers ; and for this reason I have thought it ex- 
pedient not merely to advance it but to illustrate it by 
historical examples. It is in reality an indefeasible 
deduction from the axiom that an army cannot pursue 
the offensive unless its communications are secure. " A 
modern army," says Lord Wolseley, " is such a very 
'complicated organism that any interruption in the line 
of communications tends to break up and destroy its 
very life." Hence, where the geographical relations 
of two belligerents are such that neither can reach 
the other without crossing the sea, it follows 
irresistibly that the belligerent who is unable to 
establish a secure line of communication across the 
sea is ipso facto debarred from undertaking an invasion 
of his adversary's territory. Conversely, by denying 
the sea to your adversary you establish at the same 
time your own freedom of transit across it. This was 
clearly shown in the expedition to the Crimea. Both 
aspects of the matter were illustrated not less clearly 
in quite recent times by the war between Spain and the 
United States. So long as the four Spanish warships 
in the Atlantic were at large no attempt was made to 
land American troops in Cuba. It was only when 
they were known for certain to be in Santiago and 
were there blockaded by a naval force irresistibly 
superior to them that the military expedition was 
allowed to proceed. This is, perhaps, the most ex- 
treme case on record, and it is also one of the mdst 
significant. At a very early period of naval war- 
fare we have Caesar's bold and successful defiance 


of a superior naval force which sought to bar his 
passage, but which happened to be out of the way 
when he actually embarked and set sail. In that case, 
however, the difference between a transport full of 
armed men and a warship proper was not very great. 
Each carried the same kind of armament — namely, a 
complement of armed men, and each could manoeuvre 
with approximately the same freedom and mobility 
when either could manoeuvre at all. Hence the dis- 
parity between a warship and a transport was in 
those days comparatively insignificant except in con- 
ditions of weather which enabled the ram to be brought 
into play. In these days, on the other hand, it is 
immense and incalculable, the warship being armed 
with long-range weapons of deadly precision, whereas 
the transport carries no effective armament at all. No 
wonder, then, that in one of the latest phases of naval 
warfare the mere menace of a couple of warships and 
a few destroyers at large was held by the American 
naval authorities to be an absolute bar to the transit of 
a military expedition from the ports of Florida to the 
southern coast of Cuba. There is no sort of doubt about 
the matter. Even when two Spanish cruisers and two 
destroyers were known to be in Santiago, the Secretary 
of the United States navy telegraphed to Admiral 
Sampson : " Essential to know if all four Spanish 
armoured cruisers in Santiago. Military expedition 
must wait this information." This is one of the last 
words of practical naval warfare on the subject. And 
if it be thought that the American naval authorities 
were unduly timorous in the matter, let it be re- 
membered that Captain Mahan, the highest living 
authority on naval warfare, was a member of the War 
Board which organized and controlled the campaign. 1 

1 Since my lecture was originally delivered a later and still more 
emphatic word has been uttered during the war in the Far East ; 
but it was practically the same word. The first stroke of the war 
was the elimination of the only "fleet in being" which Russia possessed 
in the Far East, to be followed at once by the Japanese invasion of 


We have now reached this point, then— that a military- 
force which seeks to cross the sea for the purpose of 
acting on the offensive in its enemy's territory is even 
more dependent on the security of its communications 
than the same force acting across a land frontier ; that 
its communications are more assailable by sea than on 
land ; that the forces capable of assailing itj are less 
easily located and countered ; and that, if its communi- 
cations are once severed, its retreat in the event of 
a reverse is rendered impossible. You may make 
good your retreat until you reach the sea, but there 
you must stand and face your victorious foe, unless 
you have transport ready to take you away. It would 
have been no use for Sir John Moore to retreat to 
Coruna if the French fleets had been in command of 
the adjacent seas. It follows from all this that the 
first thing for each of two belligerents which have no 
common land frontier to do must be to endeavour to 
destroy the naval forces of its adversary, and if that 
proves to be impossible to seal them up in their 
ports. In the absence of a common land frontier this 
is precisely equivalent at sea to the crossing of a 
common frontier on land by the army of one belli- 
gerent or the other, and until the naval issue is decided 
all military operations of an offensive character must 
be in abeyance on both sides. Naval operations are 
thus, in the case supposed, essentially preliminary to 
military operations, but for that very reason they are 
rarely conclusive in themselves. The utmost that 
naval force can do is to drive the enemy's flag from 
the seas. If that does not compel him to yield, military 
force must be employed to complete the work which 
naval force has begun. 

Manchuria. Its last stroke was the destruction of the only other 
" fleet in being " which Russia was able to send to the Far East. 
Could this latter fleet have established an effective command of 
the waters in dispute, either Japan must have sued for peace or 
the Japanese invasion of Manchuria must sooner or later have been 
followed by a Russian invasion of Japan. 


Let us now consider the defence of the British 
Empire, and the problems it presents, in the light of 
the conclusions we have reached. The British Empire, 
1 need scarcely remind you, consists of an insular 
nucleus where the powers of government are concen- 
trated, and of transmarine possessions in all parts of 
the world. It has grown from within outwards. Jts 
growth has at all times been associated with freedom 
16 cross the seas, and must have been arrested at once 
ifTEat freedom had at any time been denied to the 
merchants and people, and, in the last resort, to the 
warships and troops of this country. It is this freedom 
of maritime transit, associated with the commercial en- 
terprise which is its foundation, and with the political 
power which is its result, that has given us in succes- 
sion the East and West Indies, the North American 
Continent— half of which we lost mainly through a 
temporary default of sea-power — the whole of Austral- 
asia, so much of Africa as is now subject to our 
hegemony, together with all the other transmarine 
possessions of the Crown. An insular State endowed 
with commercial aptitudes and ambitions must needs 
trade across the seas, and to that end must secure 
respect for its flag and free transit for its ships. For 
this reason, even when the power of England was 
wholly confined within the four seas, she claimed and 
asserted the sovereignty of those seas. On the cover 
of the volumes published by the Navy Records Society 
you will find the figure of a gold coin issued by 
Edward III. in 1344. On it is represented a ship 
of the period, in which is seated a crowned Sovereign, 
bearing in one hand a sword and in the other a shield 
displaying the Royal arms of England, thus typifying 
the armed strength and sovereignty of England resting 
on the sea. Even so early as the reign of Henry VI. 
this symbolism of Edward III.'s noble was recorded in 
the following lines : 

For four things our noble sheweth to me — 
King, ship, and sword, and power of the sea. 


11 It was no mere coincidence," says Sir John Laughton, 
"which led to the adoption of such a device in 1344, 
four years after the most bloody and decisive victory 
of western war— the battle of Sluys— which, by giving 
England the command of the sea 'determined the 
course of the great war which followed, determined 
that Crecy and Poitiers should be fought on French 
soil, not on English." What was determined then by 
the battle of Sluys has been determined ever since by 
the offensive prowess of the same defensive arm. 
Freedom of transit across the seas secured to ourselves 
and denied to our enemies— secured and denied by one 
and the same agency, that of supremacy at sea — has 
kept these islands from invasion and expanded our 
Empire into the uttermost parts of the earth. Is it 
presumptuous to believe that what has made the 
Empire will keep it ? Is it to slight the Army to insist 
that the prowess of the sister service alone has enabled 
it to achieve so glorious and so ubiquitous a record ? 
Surely it is much more unworthy of both services to 
insist that, as the Navy may no longer be able to do 
what it always has done for more than 800 years — 
namely, to keep the seas open — the army must now be 
prepared to do what it never has done throughout the 
same long period — namely, to defend its native soil. 
No, no. The Navy to keep the seas, the Army to 
fight across them, is the policy that has made the 
Empire. It is the only policy that can keep it. 

For let us not deceive ourselves. The freedom of 
transit across the seas which has made the Empire 
is also essential to its continued existence and 
cohesion. It matters not by what agency this free- 
dom is interrupted. If it is once interrupted the 
Empire is at an end. The Empire does not consist 
merely of the British Islands and the many Britains 
across the seas. It is a living organism, not a mere 
geographical skeleton. Its nervous system consists 
of the lines of communication which link all its parts 
together, its vascular system of the commerce which 


flows incessantly along those lines. Its vital principle 
is the sentiment of common nationality, of community 
in race, language, literature, history, and institutions. 
But just as life itself becomes extinct if the nervous 
system is paralysed and the vascular system obstructed, 
so the living organism which we call the Empire could 
not survive a similar catastrophe. If, for instance, the 
specific gravity of the sea were to be so changed that 
no ship could float on it, we can all see that two 
consequences must immediately follow. These islands 
would be impregnable to human assault, but the 
British Empire would cease to exist. We should 
never communicate with any part of it again except 
by telegraph. Every detached portion of it would 
be thrown entirely on its own resources, and human 
intercourse would be circumscribed for ever by the 
boundaries of sea and land. Precisely the same 
result as regards the Empire would follow from such 
a change in the balance of naval power as should drive 
the British flag from the seas. Such a change could 
only come about in one way — namely, by the over- 
throw, complete, final, and irretrievable, of our 
supremacy at sea. In this case it needs no argument 
to show that with the destruction of its nervous and 
vascular system the Empire itself would perish. The 
wants of its several parts might be supplied by the 
ships and traders of other nations, but we could send 
no single man to defend them, and they would one 
and all be liable to invasion and conquest except so 
far as they were able to defend themselves. It is not 
less plain that the effect on these islands would be 
equally disastrous and irretrievable. They would be 
liable to invasion, of course, for not six Army Corps 
nor six times that number would enable us to with- 
stand the vast military forces of the Continental 
Powers if there were no British warships afloat to 
prevent their reaching our shores. But they might 
not even be worth invading. When the German armies 
invested Paris their leaders never dreamt of attempting 


to take it by assault. They knew that by interrupting 
its communications and by cutting off its supplies 
it must sooner or later be reduced, and in the mean- 
while they had work to do in France which, if it could 
be successfully accomplished, was certain to bring 
about the advent of the " psychological moment " of 
surrender. A similar policy applied to these islands 
in the case supposed would inevitably produce the 
same result in time, and it is rather an economic than 
a military problem to determine whether reduction 
by maritime investment would or would not be a more 
efficient and less costly way of effecting the desired 
result than reduction by invasion in irresistible force. 
I shall not attempt to solve this problem. I cannot 
believe that the people of this country and their rulers 
will ever be so unmindful of the things which belong 
to their peace as to allow it to become a practical one. 
I have shown that it never can become a practical 
one until the Empire is at an end. If it ever does 
become a practical one it will hardly matter the toss 
of a halfpenny whether the enemy invests or invades. 
In either alternative he will conquer, and the sun of 
England will set for ever. I do not mean that mari- 
time investment will starve us out. There is always 
food in this country for many months, and there is 
never at any moment much more food in the world 
than would keep its inhabitants alive until after the 
next harvest or a little longer. It is, moreover, im- 
possible to blockade these islands so completely that 
neutral nations anxious to trade with us would 
recognize the blockade as effective ; and therefore 
sufficient food to keep us alive at famine prices might 
always be expected to reach us in neutral bottoms. 
But this country does not live by bread alone. It 
lives by maritime commerce so vast, so ubiquitous, 
and so complicated in its international dealings and 
relations that if the British flag were driven from the 
seas the neutral tonnage remaining available would be 
quite insufficient to carry the world's commerce. In 


that case all countries would suffer in proportion to 
the volume of their maritime trade and the amount of 
it carried in British ships. But this country would 
suffer far more than any other, because the volume 
of our maritime trade is not far from equal to that of 
all the rest of the world, and nearly all of it is carried 
in British ships. These ships incessantly moving to 
and fro, representing a money value of at least two 
hundred millions always afloat, and a capital employed 
in the industries they sustain at home of many times 
that amount, cannot be driven from the seas without 
entailing an economic crisis of unexampled magnitude 
and severity. It would mean, as I have said elsewhere, 
that our mills were standing, our forges silent, our 
furnaces cold, and our mines closed. It is, in fact, 
no more possible to conceive of this country sub- 
sisting without maritime commerce than it is of a 
steam-engine working without water in the boiler. 

Thus, even if there were no risk of invasion, it 
would still be necessary for us to keep the seas open 
for the security of our maritime commerce which is 
our very life blood. Moreover, the naval force which 
suffices for this paramount purpose is also sufficient 
to protect these shores from invasion and a fortiori 
to protect from serious attack the outlying possessions 
of the Crown. The maritime commerce of the British 
Empire cannot be suppressed by a few Alabamas. It 
could only be suppressed by a naval force more 
powerful than our own. " It is not," says Captain 
Mahan, " the taking of individual ships or convoys, 
be they few or many, that strikes down the money 
power of the nation ; it is the possession of that 
overbearing power on the sea which drives the enemy's 
flag from it, and allows it to appear only as a fugitive, 
and which, by controlling the great common, closes 
the highways by which commerce moves to or from 
the enemy's shores. That overbearing power can 
only be exercised by great navies." It is this " over- 
bearing power on the sea " — I should prefer to call it 


11 overmastering " myself, for there is nothing arrogant 
nor aggressive about it— which this country has always 
sought to exercise, and, as a matter of fact, nearly 
always has exercised, from the battle of Sluys on- 
wards. Our claim to exercise it is no menace to 
other nations. It is merely the assertion of our right 
to exist as a nation ourselves, the expression in 
strategic terms of our insular position and of our 
mercantile necessities as affected thereby. Every Con- 
tinental nation makes essentially the same claim when 
it takes such measures as it thinks fit for defending 
its own frontiers. The frontiers of the British Empire 
lie on the further side of the seas which wash its 
territories, not on the hither side. The sea, it is true, 
is " the great common," as Captain Mahan calls it. 
In time of peace every flag which represents a civilized 
Power and a peaceful purpose has as much right to 
every part of it as any other. But it is a common 
over which run the highways of the world's com- 
merce. In time of war every naval Power seeks to 
deny the use of those highways, whether for military 
or for commercial purposes, to the ships flying its 
enemy's flag. In the war between France and 
Prussia in 1870 the superiority of France at sea 
was so great that the Prussian flag practically dis- 
appeared for a time from the seas. This was a 
disadvantage to Prussia, but not a very serious 
one, because her maritime commerce was at that 
time almost insignificant, and because her inferiority 
at sea was far more than balanced by her triumphant 
superiority on land. But the case is very different 
with this country. England can assert no superiority 
on land except by virtue of an assured superiority at 
sea. She could not even defend her two land frontiers 
in India and in North America unless the seas were 
open to the transport of troops and supplies. Of 
the ships which frequent the ocean highways of the 
world's commerce some 50 per cent, carry the British 
flag. To deny them the use of those highways would 


be to dismember the Empire by severing its com- 
munications, and, in the words of the late Lord 
Carnarvon, to reduce this country, in a very short 
time, to " a pauperized, discontented, overpopulated 
island in the North Sea." The only way to avert 
these calamities, calamities so crushing and so 
universal that even the invasion of these islands 
could add little to their effect, is to regard the whole 
extent of the ocean highways — that is, all the navigable 
seas of the globe — as so much territory to be held 
and defended, and to be defended with as much 
preparation, forethought, and tenacity as a Con- 
tinental Power devotes to the defences of its land 

The thing is impossible, you will perhaps say. 
That may be, and of course must be if the forces 
opposed to us are overwhelming and irresistible. 
But so far as it is impossible and in whatever 
circumstances it may become impossible the defence 
of the British Empire is also impossible. In all 
reasonably probable contingencies of warfare, however, 
it is not only possible, but imperative. Let us admit 
at once that if all the great naval Powers of the 
world were combined against us we should perish. 
We might hold out for a time, as Denmark held out 
against Prussia and Austria, but the issue would be 
certain and inevitable. But the combination of all 
the great naval Powers of the world against this 
country is not a reasonably probable contingency 
of warfare. Curran said of the fleas in an Irish inn 
that if they had only been unanimous they would 
have pulled him out of bed ; but his safety lay in 
the fact that they were not unanimous. We must 
be either very wicked or very foolish, if not both, 
if we ever give to all the Powers of the world such 
simultaneous provocation as would endow them 
with the unanimity denied to Curran's fleas. The 
reasonably probable contingencies of warfare extend 
only to conflicts with this or that Great Power or 


with a limited combination of Great Powers. For 
such contingencies we must be prepared. The higher 
policy of defence consists in preparing for them 
adequately, intelligently, and with rational regard to 
the inexorable conditions of the case. 

Now the broad outlines of this policy are clearly set 
forth in the whole course of our naval history from 
the battle of Sluys onwards. They have only been 
obscured and obliterated for a time when the conduct 
of this or that campaign has been taken out of the 
hands of the seamen who knew their business and 
undertaken by politicians who had never mastered 
the secret of the sea. The campaign of the Armada 
is perhaps the most famous illustration of this perilous 
proceeding. It is well known that if the great sea- 
captains of Elizabeth had had their way they would 
never have allowed the Armada to quit the shores of 
Spain. Drake, the greatest of them all, wrote to the 
Council, " With fifty sail of shipping we shall do more 
good upon their own coast than a great many more 
will do here at home ; and the sooner we are gone, 
the better we shall be able to impeach them." Later 
he wrote to the Queen herself: "These great pre- 
parations of the Spaniard may be speedily prevented 
as much as in your Majesty lieth, by sending your 
forces to encounter them somewhat far off, and more 
near their own coasts, which will be the better cheap 
for your Majesty and people, and much the dearer 
for the enemy." Later still Howard wrote in exactly 
the same sense : " The opinion of Sir Francis Drake, 
Mr. Hawkyns, Mr. Frobiser, and others that be men 
of the greatest judgment and experience, as also my 
own concurring with them in the same, is that the 
surest way to meet with the Spanish fleet is upon 
their own coast, or in any harbour of their own, and 
there to defeat them." This is the true policy of 
offensive defence displayed in all its fulness. But the 
Queen and her Council would have none of it. They 
thought it, as Walsyngham wrote to Howard, " not 


convenient that your Lordship should go so far to the 
south as the Isles of Bayona, but to ply up and down 
in some indifferent place between the coast of Spain 
and this realm, so that you may be able to answer any 
attempt that the said fleet shall make against this realm, 
Ireland, or Scotland." They could not understand, as 
I have said elsewhere, that if you wish to impeach a 
hostile fleet with certainty you must go where it is 
certain to be found, not wait for it to appear in some 
one or other of half a dozen places where, after all, 
it may never be found, and where, if it does appear, 
you may not be at hand to impeach it. Hence Howard 
was forbidden to go and look for the Spaniard on his 
own coast, and practically compelled to await his 
advent in British waters. He triumphed in the end, 
as we know. But to pursue such a policy in these 
days would be fatal. It would leave the seas open 
and the British mercantile flag at the mercy of the 
enemy. In other words, the policy of passive defence 
spells disaster. 

Thus, after a long circuit, I have come back to the 
point from which we started. We have now ascer- 
tained where the frontiers of the British Empire are. 
Broadly speaking, they lie on the further side of 
all the seas frequented by British shipping — that is, 
of all the navigable seas of the globe ; and the critical 
frontier for the time being is the coast-line of the 
enemy's territory, because there only can access be 
gained to his territory by a Power which, like 
England, must cross the sea before it can fight on 
land ; and there also must the enemy be impeached — 
to borrow the expressive Elizabethan word — if he 
seeks to cross the sea for the purpose of assailing 
or invading any portion of British territory or even 
of assailing British commerce afloat. There are two 
exceptions to this general definition. The British 
Empire has two land frontiers, one in India and 
another in North America, each of which is assail- 
able by a Power having the resources of a great 


State and a vast territory at its command. But 
except so far as these two frontiers are defensible 
by local forces and local resources, reinforced as far 
as may be by Imperial forces transported thither or 
stationed there in anticipation of hostilities, it stands 
to reason that they are not defensible at all unless 
the seas are open, because on that condition alone 
can they derive any further strength or defence from 
the resources either of this country or of any other 
part of the Empire. I do not include in the same 
category our land frontiers in Africa, because they 
are not, like our frontiers in India and North America, 
directly assailable by a Power of the first rank. No 
such Power can assail them seriously without first 
crossing the sea, and no such Power will or can 
cross the sea to assail them so long as England 
commands the sea — that is, so long as her real 
frontiers, those which lie on the sea itself, are 
inviolate. Thus all our frontiers, whether on land 
or on sea, are in the last resort defensible by the 
power of the sea, and by the power of the sea alone. 
Two only are assailable by military forces which have 
not crossed the sea, and even those are defensible 
only by military forces which have crossed the sea. 
In point of fact, the power of the sea is never more 
impressively manifested than when, as it did in South 
Africa, and as it has done from the first in India, 
it enables military forces to operate at thousands 
of miles from their own shores. Every soldier in the 
British Army is in this sense as real and as essential 
an instrument of sea power as are the ships of his 
Majesty's Fleet. He will never be called upon to 
defend his native soil until our power at sea is over- 
thrown. So long as our power at sea is maintained 
he may have to defend his country in either hemi- 
sphere or on either side of the line, but never within 
the ambit of the British shores. 

It may be thought, perhaps, that the defence of 
so vast a maritime territory as is defined by the 


further shores of the navigable seas of the globe is 
beyond the compass of a single naval Power, that 
the sovereignty of the four seas which our forefathers 
asserted and maintained is a very different thing from 
the command of the sea in general and much easier 
to maintain. A little consideration will show, how- 
ever, that this argument is unsound. The sea is all 
one, as Lord Selborne told the Colonial Conference, 
and the command of it once established is in large 
measure independent of the area to be covered. The 
true measure of the naval strength required to esta- 
blish an effective command of the sea is determined 
not so much by the area to be covered as by the 
naval strength of the enemy to be encountered. In the 
Crimean War the naval forces of Russia were locked 
up in Kronstadt and in Sevastopol by the superior 
naval forces of her adversaries, and the command of 
the sea enjoyed by England and France in conse- 
quence was absolute in all parts of the world, though 
it was only directly operative in the waters imme- 
diately in dispute. No Russian merchant vessel could 
venture afloat, while the merchant vessels of England 
and France traversed the seas in all directions as safely 
as if the whole world had been at peace. I do not 
know that history affords a more striking illustration 
of the meaning, extent, and effect of an assured com- 
mand of the sea. The local command established and 
maintained at the critical points became by the very 
nature of the case universal, absolute, and complete 
in all parts of the sea. By preventing the Russian 
naval forces from crossing the sea-frontiers as defined 
above, the English and French fleets made it impos- 
sible for Russia to do any harm whatever beyond those 
frontiers. The maritime commerce of England and 
France enjoyed complete immunity from attack, their 
armies were free to move in any direction across the 
seas without the least risk to their communications, and 
did move across the disputed frontier to the invasion 
of the enemy's territory. This was only possible, 


it may be said, because the available seaboard of 
Russia was very limited in extent, and because the 
naval forces of Russia were completely overmatched 
by those of England and France. This is true, of 
course, but it does not vitally affect the argument. 
The available seaboard of any naval Power consists 
mainly of the arsenals and anchorages in which its 
warships are equipped and sheltered, and of any 
other ports in which a military expedition may be 
preparing. Be these few or many, they are known 
beforehand, and the mobile forces they contain are 
also approximately known at all times. There is no 
certain way of preventing these forces from crossing 
the frontier to be defended except by placing a 
superior force in a position to impeach them. If 
this cannot be done there is no command of the 
sea such as England needs unless her Empire is to 
be overthrown. But if it can be done her effective 
command of the sea will be unshaken until each one of 
her fleets in position has been challenged, defeated, 
and driven back into port by the fleets of the enemy. 
That it ought to be done, that it is, indeed, the fixed 
policy of this country to do it, is made perfectly 
clear by the famous declaration of the Duke of 
Devonshire in 1896: " The maintenance of sea- 
supremacy has been assumed as the basis of the 
system of Imperial defence against attacks from over 
the sea. This is the determining factor in fixing the 
whole defensive policy of the Empire." 

Let me here take a homely illustration. If you have 
a large farm adjacent to a rabbit warren it is certain 
that your crops will be ravaged by the rabbits unless 
you can confine them within the limits of their proper 
territory and keep them off your crops altogether. 
Where, in that case, would you put the frontier of 
their territory ? Obviously you would put it at the 
further side of your cultivated fields. Your farm- 
house may be a mile away from the warren. But 
if you stop at home with a gun in your hand — or a 


whole armoury for that matter — and wait for the 
rabbits to come within range, you will kill very few 
rabbits, while a great many rabbits will ravage your 
crops in all directions and will in time eat you out 
of house and home. But if you surround the warren 
with a fence which the rabbits cannot pass, your crops 
will be unmolested, and you may cultivate your fields 
as freely as if there were no rabbits in the world. 
Here and there, perhaps, a hole will be made in the 
fence and one or two rabbits will get through. But 
a very modest share of sporting strategy will enable 
you to dispose of these rare and fugitive marauders. 
Your terriers will make their life a burden to them, 
even if your gun does not make an end of them, and 
at the worst the harm they could do would be little 
more than trifling. Of course, if you choose to 
neglect your fence, your crops will be ravaged and 
your farm ruined. But that is your look-out. You 
can keep the rabbits out if you choose to take the 
trouble and pay for a proper fence. Otherwise you 
must take the consequences. There is no alternative 
between closing the warren and losing the crops. 
In like manner there is no alternative between com- 
mand of the sea and the loss of the Empire. 

Of course, as warships are not rabbits, there is 
always the possibility that the fence may be broken 
down and the rabbits escape in a body. In that case, 
to drop the illustration, your sea-frontier is invaded 
and you must take measures accordingly. This opens 
out the whole field of naval strategy, and, as I am not 
writing a treatise on the methods of naval warfare, 
I must leave it in large measure unexplored. The 
broad principle was admirably stated by the late 
Admiral Colomb, and I quote his words with the 
more satisfaction because they apply sound military 
analogies to the elucidation of the naval problem. 
" The British Navy," he says, " like the French or 
German armies on the defensive, must in the first 
instance guard the frontier and keep their territory — 



in this case water and not land — free to lawful passage 
and barred to the march of enemies. Should they fail 
to keep the frontier, they must fall back within the 
water territory and endeavour to beat the enemies 
which have invaded it over the frontier again. Should 
they fail in this — as France failed in the last war— the 
Empire is conquered, even as the French Empire was, 
notwithstanding that a sea-girt Metz or a water-sur- 
rounded Paris of the British Empire should prove so 
strong in local defence that investment, and not 
assault, must be the tactic employed to reduce them." 
There are thus three possible phases in which the 
command of the sea may be considered, and no more. 
First, where it is complete, as it was in the Crimean 
War. In this case the military forces of the Power 
which commands the sea are as free to act against any 
portion of the enemy's seaboard as if an undefended 
land frontier were alone in question. For, as Raleigh 
said nearly three hundred years ago, " A strong army 
in a good fleet which neither foot nor horse is able to 
follow cannot be denied to land where it list in 
England, France, or elsewhere, unless it be hindered, 
encountered, or shuffled together by a fleet of equal 
or of answerable strength." The second phase is 
when the command of the sea is disputed, as it was 
when Villeneuve gave Nelson the slip at Toulon, and 
making a wide sweep to the westward, sought to join 
hands with the other French fleets beleaguered in the 
Atlantic ports. " Falling back within the water-terri- 
tory," Nelson pursued the absolutely correct strategy. 
He was not decoyed away, as has too often been 
represented. His fleet was at all times a far more 
potent factor in the defence of this country than if it 
had been guarding these shores. Wherever it went 
in pursuit of Villeneuve it was where every British 
fleet ought to be in time of war — namely, in the position 
most advantageous in the circumstances for bringing 
its immediate adversary to book. Finding that his 
frontier had been crossed and that the water-territory 


he was set to guard had thereby been invaded, Nelson 
pursued the single and supreme purpose of " endea- 
vouring to beat the enemies which had invaded it over 
the frontier again." He effected that purpose and 
consummated it at Trafalgar. The third and last 
phase is where the command of the sea is overthrown. 
Happily we have no experience in this country of this 
last phase later than the Norman Conquest. If we 
ever do experience it again Admiral Colomb has pithily 
told us what it means, — " The Empire is conquered." 
Or, in the famous words of the three admirals who 
reported on the naval manoeuvres of 1888 : " England 
ranks among the great Powers of the world by virtue of 
the naval position she has acquired in the past . . . The 
defeat of her Navy means to her the loss of India and 
her colonies, and of her place among the nations. . . . 
Under the conditions in which it would be possible for 
a great Power successfully to invade England, nothing 
could avail her, as, the command of the sea once being 
lost, it would not require the landing of a single man 
on her shores to bring her to an ignominious capitula- 
tion, for by her Navy she must stand or fall." 

We thus see how pregnant and profound is Napoleon's 
maxim — that war is an affair of positions — when 
applied to naval warfare. The proper position for the 
fleets of England in any possible war with a naval 
Power capable of coping with her on the seas is in 
front of the ports and arsenals of the enemy. If that 
position cannot be maintained the war enters at once 
on a new phase — that of a disputed command of the 
sea, wherein the chosen frontier is crossed and the 
water-territory is invaded, but it remains essentially 
an affair of positions. It would carry me too far to 
develop this proposition in detail, and it is the less 
necessary to do so because the whole subject has quite 
lately been treated in masterly fashion by Captain 
Mahan, whose volume, entitled Retrospect and Prospect, 
contains one of his best papers, " Considerations 
Governing the Disposition of Navies." It must 


suffice to have directed your attention to this most 
authoritative exposition of the subject. I will only 
add a single remark. The occupation of positions in 
any given war is no matter of arbitrary choice. Dis- 
positions in relation to the positions occupied may be 
well or ill made according to the strategic skill and 
insight of the commander employed ; but the positions 
themselves are determined by the fact that they must 
at the outset be on the sea-frontier of the enemy. If, 
notwithstanding, the enemy succeeds in crossing the 
frontier, new positions will have to be occupied, but 
they will still be determined by considerations, geo- 
graphical in the main, which leave to neither belligerent 
very much room for choice. These propositions, at 
once elementary and fundamental, are too often ignored 
by heedless and inconsequent thinkers. How often 
do we hear that we cannot trust to naval defence for a 
country which can only be reached across the sea, 
because, forsooth, the Navy, however strong, may 
chance to be in the wrong place at the critical moment? 
Why should it be in the wrong place when its one 
business and duty is to be in the right place ? Do you 
ever plan military campaigns on this preposterous 
assumption? Was Napoleon III. likely to mass his 
armies in the Pyrenees when the German armies were 
advancing towards his eastern frontier ? When an 
enemy is seeking to invade this country are our fleets 
at all likely to be found anywhere but where they can 
best impeach the enterprise ? "I will conquer India 
on the banks of the Vistula," said Napoleon. It was a 
vain boast. It is no vain boast, but a plain statement 
of inexorable strategic fact, that England can best 
defend all parts of her Empire on the sea-frontier of 
the enemy who seeks to attack them. 

You will perhaps ask me at this point — perhaps, 
indeed, you have been asking all along — where in all 
this does the Army come in ? I can only answer that 
in this, the preliminary defensive stage — defensive in 
purpose, but offensive in method — of a great war to 


be waged across the seas, the Army does not, and 
cannot, come in at all. It cannot come in for the 
defence of these islands, because so long as the sea- 
frontier is inviolate, and, indeed, until the naval forces 
entrusted with its occupation and defence are not only 
driven back but finally ousted from the intervening 
water-territory, no invading force can reach them. 
Nor can it cross the seas to attack the territory of the 
enemy, or any of his outlying possessions, until the 
command thereof by the British naval forces is so 
firmly established that its transit and communications 
are secure from all serious attack. These are the 
only conditions in which the Army can come in for 
the defence of an Empire which can only be defended 
by crossing the sea, and they are also the conditions 
in which it always has come in throughout the whole 
course of its history. This is why no British regiment 
bears on its colours the record of any military achieve- 
ment on its native soil, while all are justly proud 
to associate their glories with nearly every land but 
their own. If this is not a record and a function with 
which the Army can be content I can assign it no 
other, nor as regards function can I think of a higher 
one to assign it. I cannot even think of the Army 
as defending these islands, because before I can do 
so I must think of the Empire as destroyed. I can 
only think of the Army as doing what it always has 
done, training itself at home for faithful service abroad, 
garrisoning the Empire's outposts in all parts of the 
world, occupying in far-flung echelons the long lines 
of communication which lead to the confines of the 
Empire — and lead also in time of war to weak points 
in an enemy's armour — ready at all times to move 
in any direction at the call of duty and the nation's 
needs. But when I think of the Army as doing all 
this I must also think of the Navy as alone enabling 
it to do all this. The functions of the two arms, the 
naval and the military, are not to be enclosed in 
separate watertight compartments with no communica- 


tion between them. They are correlative and in- 
separable. The Army must not attempt to do what 
the Navy alone can do — namely, keep the invader at 
bay ; the Navy must not attempt to do what the Army 
alone can do — namely, attack the enemy wherever he 
is assailable on land. If the Navy relieves the Army 
of the duty of defending these islands, it also imposes 
on the Army the duty, and provides it with the 
opportunity, of fighting across the seas wherever 
its services are required. Fifty years ago, when 
the higher policy of defence was little understood 
and less appreciated, a special military force was 
organized for the defence of this country against the 
invader. Fifty years ago I was a member of that 
force myself, and I shared the ideas which inspired 
its formation. Those ideas were largely false, and if 
fortune had so willed it, they might have been fatal 
to the Empire. But patriotism is justified of all her 
children. I have the utmost respect for the Volun- 
teers, and their successors of the Territorial Force, 
as a valuable auxiliary and reserve — never more 
valuable than in these days — for a mobile Army, for 
an Army which so long as the Empire endures will 
always be, not a forlorn hope for the defence of these 
shores, but the offensive and ubiquitous weapon of 
a sea-supremacy co-extensive with the Empire ; and 
I congratulate the sons and the grandsons of my 
comrades-in-arms of 1859 that the facts of war have 
revealed to them what was hidden from us by the 
fallacies of peace, and that the only foe they have ever 
met in the field was encountered at a distance of 
6,000 miles from the shores they were enrolled to 


Achilles, British ship of the line, 
Trafalgar, 46, 63 

Adamant, British ship of the line, 
Insubordination in, 143 ; at 
the Texel, 155-157 

Advance, The, at Trafalgar, 43-55 

Alabama, The, destruction caused 
by, in the American War of 
Secession, 305-309 ; in modern 
warfare, 316, 329 

Aldebaran, The, Swedish vessel, 
Dogger Bank incident, 259 

Alexander III, Russian battle- 
ship, 258 

Alfred, The, one of the first ships 
in the American navy, under 
command of Paul Jones, 192 

Alliance, The, American navy 
under command of Pierre Lan- 
dais, 208-210 ; in the North Sea, 
213, 214 ; the capture of the 
Serapis, 220-223, 226, 227 ; 
in the Texel, 230, 232 ; her 
departure from the Texel, 240- 

America, and Paul Jones, 173- 
182, 192 ; birth of her navy, 
182-192 ; her flag, 192, 198, 
228 n, 229 n ; her first battle- 
ship, 247 ; her present naval 
position, 295, 296 ; The War of 
Secession, 304-309 ; The Cuban 
War, 304, 354, 355 

America, The, first American line 
of battleship, 247 

Anadyr, The, Russian transport, 
Dogger Bank incident, 259 

Andrews, Miss, and Nelson, 88, 89 

Annapolis, burial-place of Paul 
Jones, 170 

Arbigland, birthplace of Paul 
Jones, 174 

Ardent, The, at the battle of 
Camperdown, 166 

Armada, The, 118, 364 

Atkinson, Thomas, Master of the 
Victory, 49 

Attack, The, at Trafalgar, 56-68 ; 
attack and defence of com- 
merce, 302-340 

Aurora, The, Russian cruiser, 
Dogger Bank incident, 259, 264, 

Bacon, Captain, on torpedo attack, 

276, 278 
Banna tyne, Dr., British surgeon, 

Barham, Lord, First Lord of the 

Admiralty, Trafalgar, 77, 121 ; 

and Paul Jones, 172 
Bastia, Siege and reduction of, 

Bear down, sailing term explained, 

Bear up, sailing term explained, 9, 

Beatty, Dr., surgeon of the 

Victory, on Nelson, 16, 132 
Belleisle, British ship of the line, 

at Trafalgar, 46, 63 
Bellerophon, British ship of the 

line, at Trafalgar, 46, 63 
Berckel, Van, the Grand Pension- 
ary, 241 
Beresford, Lord Charles, Naval 

Dispositions of 1904, 287 
Blackwood, British Captain, battle 

of Trafalgar, 57, 59, 70 
Bonaparte, see Napoleon 
Bon Homme Richard, see Richard 
Borodino, Russian battleship, 

Dogger Bank incident, 258 
Boscawen, Admiral, 135, 136 
" Boston Tea Party," 180 
Brest, French fleet at, 152 ; Paul 

Jones at, 198, 204 
Bridge, Admiral Sir Cyprian, on 

Nelson's tactics at Trafalgar, 13, 

14. 39, 43> 44, 56, 6i, 72, 76, 78 ; 




on Nelson, 120, 124 ; on attack 

and defence of commerce, 312 
Bridport, Viscount, his missed 

opportunity, 152, 167 
Britannia, British ship of the line, 

at Trafalgar, 46, 47 
Brodie, Lieut., describes Duncan's 

signals and manoeuvres, 156, 

Brooke, Dr., American surgeon, 

Browning Robert, Home Thoughts 

from the Sea, 3 
Bruix, French Admiral, Nelson 

fails to intercept, 101, 105 
Bucentaure, French flagship at 

Trafalgar ; Nelson's encounter 

with, 64-67 
Buell, A. C, Life of Paul Jones, 

170 n, 198, 212, 250 
Bunker's Hill, Battle of, 182 
Burgoyne, John, British General, 

his surrender at Saratoga, 197 
Byng, John, British Admiral, 97 ; 

his execution, 254, 255 

Caesar, Julius, compared with 
Napoleon, 353 

Calder, Sir Robert, British Ad- 
miral, Captain of the fleet at 
the battle of St. Vincent, and 
Nelson's breach of orders, 37, 
165 ; and Napoleon's attempt on 
England, 118 ; and Villeneuve, 
122 ; Nelson's kindness to, 130, 

Calvi, a town in Corsica, Siege of, 

Camperdown, Battle of, Admiral 

Duncan the victor of, 133-135, 

157 ; description of the battle, 

Camperdown, Earl of, on Admiral 

Duncan, 134, 135, 137, 154 ; 

and Lord Spencer, 147, 148 ; 

and John Clerk of Eldin, 164 
Capital ships, meaning of term, 

Captured vessels, difficulties with, 

Caracciolo, Francesco, Commodore 

in Neapolitan navy, Nelson's 

share in trial and execution of, 

93, 101, 102 
Carnarvon, Earl of, quoted 363 
Chatham, Earl of, an anecdote of, 

106 ; and the American colonies 


Chesapeake, The Capes of, 252- 

Circe, British ship, Insubordina- 
tion in, 155 

Clerk of Eldin, John, Naval Tactics, 
16, 26-32, 125, 249 ; Lord 
Camperdown on, 164 

Codrington, Edward, British 
Captain ; on the tactics at 
Trafalgar, 44, 66 

Collingwood, Cuthbert, British 
Admiral, Nelson's memorandum 
at the battle of Trafalgar, 15, 
17-20, 35 ; the order of sailing, 
46 ; the attack, 48, 49, 51, 52, 
54 n, 56, 58, 63, 64 ; his signals, 
61, 62 ; Nelson's pledge to, 67, 
68, 70, 71 ; and Napoleon, 121 

Colomb, Admiral, and Nelson's 
tactics at Trafalgar, 13, 72, 77; 
on the fleet in being, 108 ; on 
Nelson's courage and disposi- 
tion, 126, 128 ; on Sir Charles 
Hardy's incapacity, 139, 141 ; 
on the battle of Camperdown, 
159 ; how to guard the sea 
frontier, 369-371 

Colossus, British ship of the line, 
at Trafalgar, 46, 63 

Command, The second in, duties 
of, 35 

Commerce, The attack and de- 
fence of, 302-340, British mari- 
time, 361 

Communications, Security of, 345 

Compass, Points of, explained 7, 8 

Concentration, Necessity for, 319 

Concordat, The, 211 

Conqueror, British ship of the line, 
at Trafalgar, 46, 47 

Copenhagen, Battle of, 93, 112 

Corbett, Julian, Fighting Instruc- 
tions, 25 ; tactics in action on 
June 1st, 30-32 ; on Nelson's 
tactics at the battle of Trafalgar, 
33, 41, 43, 65-67, 72, 73 

Cornwallis, Charles, 1st Marquis, 
capitulation at Yorktown, 252 

Cornwallis, Sir William, British 
Admiral, 118, 121 ; the tenacity 
of, 122 

Cottineau, duel with Pierre Lan- 
dais, 230; and Paul Jones, 230, 

Countess of Scarborough, British, 
captured by Paul Jones, 215, 
228 ; voyage to the Texel, 229, 
231, 233, 240 



Cruisers, Modern, 317 

Cuban War, The, 304, 354, 355 

Cunningham, Captain, American 

naval officer, imprisoned at 

Plymouth, 210 
Custance, Sir Reginald, British 

Admiral, Naval Tactics, 28 ; 

Naval Policy, 334 

De Barras, Chevalier, and De 
Grasse, 252 

De Chartres, Due, afterwards 
Due d' Orleans, friendship for 
Paul Jones, 172, 183, 205, 206, 

De Chaumont, Le Ray, French 
Commissary of the Squadron, 
the Concordat, 211, 240, 241 

De Cordova, Don Luis, in com- 
mand of Spanish fleet, 137 

Defence, British ship of the line, 
at Trafalgar, 46, 63 

Defence, futility of passive, 36 

Defence, higher policy of , 341-374 

Defence of commerce, 302-340 

Defiance, British ship of the line, 
at Trafalgar, 46, 63 

De Grasse, Count, French Admiral, 
and the action off Dominica, 
31, 248, 249 n ; and Admiral 
Graves, 252-256 

De Kersaint, The Comte, French 
Vice-Admiral, friendship with 
Paul Jones, 183, 251 

De Rochambeau, Comte, 252 

De Sartine, M., French Minister of 
Marine, and Paul Jones, 205, 
232, 240 

Desbriere, Col., Trafalgar, 14 n \ 
on Collingwood's exclamation, 
19 n ; English fleet in two 
pelotons, 46 n ; Villeneuve's 
signal, 51 n ; the act of wearing, 

54 n 
De Segur, Comte de, French 

Ambassador at St. Petersburg, 

friendship with Paul Jones, 

De Thevenard, Chevalier, and 

Pierre Landais, 208, 209 
De Toulouse, Count, battle off 

Malaga, 250, 254 
De Vaudreuil, Marquis, and Paul 

Jones, 252, 254 
Devonshire, Duke of, on sea 

supremacy, 368 
De Winter, Dutch Admiral, on the 

Texel, 158 ; puts to sea, 159, 

160 ; battle of Camperdown, 

Disraeli, Benjamin, afterwards 
Earl of Beaconsfield, The Life 
of Paul Jones, 195-197 ; on the 
attack on Whitehaven, 199, 
204 ; on the capture of the 
Serapis, 216 ; on Pierre Lan- 
dais's conduct, 226 n ; on Paul 
Jones and his prisoners, 241 

Dmitri Donskoi, Russian cruiser, 
Dogger Bank incident, 259, 264, 
266, 269, 270 

Dogger Bank, The, first alarm, 
258, 259 ; alarm intensified, 
260, 261 ; Russians fire on 
trawlers, 262 ; sequence of 
events, 263 ; the finding of the 
Commission, 263-268 ; sug- 
gested solution, 269 ; the psy- 
chological atmosphere, 270, 271; 
lessons for the future, 275, 276 ; 
duties of neutral craft, 277, 

Dominica, Rodney's action off, 30, 
249 n 

Domvile, Admiral Sir Compton, 
273 ; dispositions of 1904, 287 

Donald Currie, Beck & Co., and 
Paul Jones, 176 

D'Orvilliers, Count, Commander of 
the French fleet, his tactics in 
the Channel, 137, 139-142, 212, 
254 ; and Paul Jones, 198, 249, 

Drake, Sir Francis, battle of 
Gravelines, 2 ; to wrestle a pull, 
118; on advantage of time and 
place, 157 ; on the policy of 
offensive defence, 364 

Drake, British sloop of war, 
captured by Paul Jones in the 
Ranger, 202-204 

Dreadnought, British ship of the 
line, at Trafalgar, 46, 63, 131 

Duckworth, Sir J. T., British 
Admiral, and Nelson, 100 

Dumanoir, French Admiral, at 
the battle of Trafalgar, 66 

Duncan, British Admiral, victor 
of Camperdown, his greatness, 
133-135, 142, 143 ; commands 
the Monarch, 136 ; his instinct 
for war, 137 ; on Hardy's retreat 
up the Channel, 138-141 ; at 
the Texel, 142 ; his attitude 
towards insubordination, 143, 
1 53> 154 ; and Earl Spencer, 




145-149; Lady Spencer's letter 
to, 146, 147 ; Commander-in- 
Chief 111 the North Sea, 148 ; on 
the Russian fleet, 149, 150 ; 
how he hoodwinked the Dutch 
at the Texel, 152-160 ; battle 
of Camperdown, 161-169 ; his 
tactical inspiration, 163-165 ; 
Jervison, 165 ; his achievement, 
167 ; description of, 168, 169 
Dunmore, Earl, and Paul Jones, 


Du Pavillion, Chevalier, French 
Commander of the Triumphant , 
his system of naval signals, 
248, 249, 254 

Durnford, Admiral, on mistakes 
in manoeuvres, 273 

Edgerley, Dr., British surgeon of 
the Countess of Scarborough, 230, 

England, embroiled with Holland, 
238, 239 ; Paul Jones on her 
naval position off the Capes of 
the Chesapeake, 252, 253 ; the 
command of the sea, 280 ; 
distribution of her naval force, 
282, 283 ; her possible enemies, 
283-285 ; her geographical con- 
ditions, 285, 286 ; naval dis- 
positions of 1904 and after, 
287-290 ; and the United States, 
296-301 ; defence of, 357-374 

Fanning, Nathaniel, and the cap- 
ture of the Serapis, 223 ; his 
description of the scenes on 
board, 229 ; tells how Paul 
Jones quitted the Texel, 242 

Fighting Instructions, see Corbett 

Fiorenzo, San, Bay of, Nelson and 
the siege of Calvi, 109, no, in 

Fleet in Being, The, doctrine of, 
108-112, Russian, 355 n, 356 n 

Folkersahm, Russian Admiral, 
Dogger Bank incident, 260 

Food Supply Commission, 312, 
319, 326 

France, battle of Trafalgar, 3, 
56-81 ; her sailors' homage to 
the Nelson column, 5 ; her 
fleet at Golfe Jouan, 109, no ; 
D'Orvilliers in the Channel, 137, 
139, 212; French Revolution 
and naval defeat, 150, 151 ; 
alliance with the United States, 

1 97, 203 ; treatment of captures 
made by Paul Jones, 231, 232 ; 
Paul Jones on her naval war- 
fare, 251-256; geographical 
conditions, 285, 286 ; as the 
ally of Russia, 287, 288 

Franklin, Benjamin, American 
Ambassador in Paris, and Paul 
Jones, 172, 196-198, 205, 241 ; 
and Pierre Landais, 208, 230 ; 
the Concordat, 211; the French 
claim to Paul Jones's prizes, 232, 
240 ; the diplomatic situation, 
236, 237 

Fremantle, British Captain with 
Nelson at Teneriffe, Nelson's 
chivalrous conduct, 129 

Galissonie*re, La, repulse of Byng 
from Minorca, 254, 255 

Gardner, Henry, his description 
of the capture of the Serapis, 
217 n, 224 

Gerard, Pierre, French Captain at 
Trafalgar, on board the Richard, 

Germany, her position with re- 
gard to England, 285-288 

Gibraltar, its position in war, 289 

Glasgow, British sloop, escape of, 

Going free, meaning of, 9 

Gravelines, Battle of, 2, 119 

Graves, British Admiral and 
Count de Grasse off the Capes 
of Chesapeake, 252-255 

Gravina, Spanish Admiral, com- 
mander of the Spanish con- 
tingent and second in command 
of the combined fleet at 
Trafalgar, 52, 55 n 

Guerre de course, The, 294, 295, 

310. 334. 335. 34° 

Guichen, Admiral de, French 
Commander-in-Chief, and Rod- 
ney, 29, 32 

Guzzardi, Leonardo, Neapolitan 
artist, painter of Nelson's por- 
trait, 96 n 

Hamilton, Emma, Lady, Nelson's 
letters to, 16, 17 ; her influence 
over Nelson, 88-90, 93-101, 
122, 125 ; and Lady Nelson, 91 

Hamilton, Sir William, British 
Minister to Naples, and Nelson, 

91, 95. 97 
Hamilton, William Gerard, 



11 single-speech Hamilton," 133, 


Hamilton, Sir Vesey, on Napo- 
leon's attack on England, 350 

Hannay, David, Southey's Life 
of Nelson, 26, 28, 71 ; Letters of 
Sir Samuel Hood, 114 

Hardy, Captain Thomas M., Nel- 
son's flag-captain, 24 n, 122, 
131 ; his rescue by Nelson, 129 

Hardy, Sir Charles, British Ad- 
miral in command of the Channel 
fleet, his retreat, 137, 212 ; his 
incapacity, 138, 142, 145 

Harvey, Eliab, Captain of the 
Temeraire at the battle of 
Trafalgar, 75, 76 

Hawke, Sir Edward, British 
Admiral, and Admiral Duncan, 
135. 136 ; Quiberon Bay, 255, 

Hoche, Lazare, French General, 
expedition to Ireland, 153, 167 

Holland, defeat of the Dutch fleet, 
151-157 ; the States General 
and Paul Jones, 232-238 ; em- 
broiled with England, 238, 
239 ; the Dutch wars, 286 

Home Thoughts from the Sea, 
Robert Browning, 3 

Hood, Admiral, Lord, his opinion 
of Nelson, 16 ; his perfect con- 
fidence in Nelson, 103 ; siege 
of Calvi, 109-111 ; his failure, 

Hope, British Captain of the 
Defence, Nelson's memorandum, 


Hopkins, Admiral Sir John, tor- 
pedo attack on commerce, 326 

Hopkins, Ezekiel, American Com- 
modore, expedition against the 
Bahamas, 192 

Hornby, Sir Geoffrey, on command 
of the sea, 109 

Hotham, Captain of the Adamant, 
at the Texel, 155 ; on Admiral 
Duncan's action at Camper- 
down, 165, 166 

Hotham, Sir Henry, Vice-Admiral, 
second in command to Lord 
Hood, and Nelson, 103 ; his 
failure and lost opportunity, 
109, no, 112, 113, 117, 151- 
i53» 167 

Howard, of Effingham, Charles 

* Hardy, quoted 140, 158 

Howe, Admiral Lord, his tactics, 

30-32, 40, 56, 125 ; a great 
commander, 135 ; and Admiral 
Duncan, 136 ; his victory of the 
First of June, 145, 151 ; his 
improvements in signals, 248 

Implacable, under command of 
Captain Sir Byam Martin, her 
heterogeneous crew, 207 n 

International law, on privateering, 
315 ; as to captures, 323 

Ireland, Paul Jones at Carrick- 
fergus, 202 

Jackson, Admiral Sturges, Logs of 
the Great Sea-Fights, 61, 62 

James, William, Naval History, 
on the Trafalgar problem, 13, 
18, 62, 64, 76 ; on the battle of 
Camperdown, 166 

Japan, her geographical condition, 
284 ; her war with Russia, 303, 


Jefferson, Thomas, and Paul 
Jones, 182, 193 

Jervis, Admiral Sir John, after- 
wards Earl of St. Vincent, 
Commander-in-Chief in the 
Mediterranean, Nelson's dis- 
obedience, 37, 103 ; withdrawal 
from the Mediterranean, 97 ; 
Nelson and the two Sicilies, 98, 
99, 101, 112 ; resigns, 105 ; 
Captain Mahan on, 117; 
Nelson's disposition, 120, 129 ; 
and Duncan, 136 ; Hardy's 
retreat up the Channel, 142, 
145 ; his austerity, 153 ; com- 
ments on Nelson and Duncan, 
164,165; Lady Spencer's letter 
of congratulation to, 167, 168 

Jervis, Captain of the Foudroyant, 
off Scilly, 137 ; Hardy's retreat 
up the Channel, 138, 142, 145 

Jones, Paul, the father of the 
American navy, 170 ; his char- 
acter, 171, 172, 174 ; his friend- 
ship with Due and Duchesse of 
Chartres, 172, 183, 205, 206, 
250 ; American appreciation of, 
173 ; his early years and 
voyages, 174, 175, 245, 246; 
his trial for killing a mutineer* 
176 ; commands the Grantully 
Castle, 176 ; settles in Virginia, 
177-180; and the continental 
party, 181, 182 ; and Thomas 
Jefferson, 182, 193 ; birth of the 



American navy, 182, 183 ; report 
on the qualities of a naval officer, 
184-188 ; report on America's 
naval needs, 189 ; First Lieut, 
of the Alfred, 192 ; commands 
the Providence, 192 ; and Lord 
Dunmore, 193 ; his captures, 
194 ; Disraeli on, 195-197 ; 
commands the Ranger and 
bears dispatches to France, 
197 ,' attack on Whitehaven, 
198, 199 ; lands at St. Mary's 
Isle, 200 ; his letter to Lady 
Selkirk, 200, 201 ; the capture 
of the Drake, 202-204 ; at the 
French Court, 204, 205 ; com- 
mands the Bon Homme Richard, 
206, 207 ; and Pierre Landais, 
208, 209, 230 ; description 
of his capture of the Serapis, 
214-228; the Concordat, 211; 
his captures in the North 
Sea, 213 ; his qualities as a 
commander, 217 ; on discipline, 
218 n\ voyage to the Texel, 
229, 230 ; his difficulties at the 
Texel, 230-239 ; and Sir Joseph 
Yorke, 232-238, 241, 242 ; and 
the States General, 235, 236 ; 
and his prisoners, 241, 242 ; 
left alone with the Alliance, 
241 ; quits the Texel, 242 ; 
Vice-Admiral in the Russian 
navy, 243-246 ; Comte de 
Segur's eulogy on, 244, 245 ; on 
naval tactics, 247-251 
Jouan, Golfe, 109 

Kamchatka, Russian transport, 
Dogger Bank incident, 259, 260, 

Keats, Captain, R. G., Nelson's 
conversations on tactics at 
Trafalgar with, 17, 36, 39, 42,45, 
48 ; commands the Superb, 130 

Keith, Lord, Nelson's disobedience 
of, 93, 104-106 

Kempenfelt, Richard, British 
Admiral drowned in the Royal 
George, his eminence as a 
tactician, 248 

Keppel, British Admiral, 135 ; 
Paul Jones on, 248, 254 

Keyes, Commander, on mistakes 
in manoeuvres, 272 

Lafayette, Marquis de, his friend- 
ship for Paul Jones, 172 

Landais, Pierre, in command of 
the Alliance, 207 ; his character 
208, 209 ; his treacherous con- 
duct, 210, 214, 215, 219, 220, 
223, 226 n 

Laughton, Sir John Knox, Pro- 
fessor, Nelson, 47, 124 ; on Lord 
Spencer, 147 ; on Duncan's 
tactical inspiration at battle of 
Camperdown, 163 ; on Paul 
Jones, 171, 174, 194, 195, 202 ; 
Studies in Naval History, 171 ; 
on the battle of Sluys, 358 

Lecky, W. H., quoted 193 

Lee, Arthur, American Com- 
missioner in Europe, and Paul 
Jones, 173 ; and Pierre Landais, 
208, 209 

Leviathan, British ship of the 
line, at Trafalgar, 46, 47 

Lexington, Battle of, 182 

Liman, Battle of the, 243 

Line abreast, ahead, of bearing, 
meaning of, 10 

Livingstone, Philip and the 
American continental party, 

Londonderry, Marchioness of, her 
tribute to Nelson, 5, 123 

Louis of Battenberg, Prince, his 
naval invention, 59 

Louis XVI., decorates Paul Jones, 

Louis Philippe and Paul Jones, 172 

Macgregor, Commander Sir Mal- 
colm, 24 n 

Magendie, flag-captain of the 
Bucentaure, plan of the battle 
of Trafalgar, 77, 78 

Mahan, Captain, The Life of 
Nelson, 6, 13, 15, 19, 34, 82-119, 
120, 135, 137, 140, 157 ; dia- 
gram of the battle of Trafalgar, 
60, 80 ; Influence of Sea Power 
upon History, 107 ; Naval Ad- 
ministration and Warfare, 92 n ; 
on Nelson's intellect, 124, 125 ; 
on Paul Jones, 181 ; on Eng- 
land's strategic policy during 
American War of Independence, 
203 ; on attack and defence of 
commerce, 302 ; on the Cuban 
war, 355 ; " the sea the great 
common," 362 ; Retrospect and 
Prospect, 371 

Manoeuvres, mistakes in, 271- 
274 ; of 1906, 330-34 



Mars, British ship of the line, 
at Trafalgar, 46, 48, 49, 63 

Martin, Admiral Sir Byam, on 
the diversity of the crew of a 
British man-of-war, 207 n 

Martin, French Admiral, and 
Hotham, 112, 152 

Mayrant, John, led the boarders 
of the Richard at the capture of 
the Serapis, 210, 224 

Memorandum of Nelson at Tra- 
falgar, see Nelson 

Middleton, Sir Charles, afterwards 
Lord Barham, First Lord of the 
Admiralty, and Duncan, 149 

Minerva, H.M.S., her mistake in 
manoeuvres, 273, 274 

Monarch, British ship of the line, 
I 36, 137 ; in Hardy's retreat, 
138 ; at the battle of Camper- 
down, 161 

Moorsom, Captain of the Revenge, 
on Nelson's plan, 19, 75 ; on 
order of sailing, 47 ; on the 
wind and course, 48, 49 

Morrison collection, The, Nelson's 
letters to Lady Hamilton, 92, 
94, 107 n, 125 

Murray, John , publisher, Disraeli 
the author of Life of Paul 
Jones, 195 

Mutiny, Admiral Duncan's treat- 
ment of, 143, 152-155 

Naples, conduct of Nelson and 
Lady Hamilton at, 93-99 ; 
capitulation of, 101, 102 

Napoleon Bonaparte, overthrow 
of his naval combinations, 121 ; 
' ' the winner is the man who is 
last afraid," 142 ; the object 
of war, 257 ; " war is an affair 
of positions," 279, 311, 345, 371, 
372 ; his difficulties in Egypt, 
349-352 ; and Caesar, 353 

Nassau-Siegen, Commander of 
flotilla of gunboats under Paul 
Jones, treacheFy of, 243 

National Biography, Dictionary of, 
on Lord Spencer, 147 ; on 
Paul Jones, 171 

National Review, The Higher 
Policy of Defence, 341 

Naval Annual, The Dogger Bank 
and its Lessons, 258-278 ; At- 
tack and Defence of Commerce, 

Naval force, distribution of, 283 

Naval officer, Paul Jones on the 
duties of, 185-187 

Naval Policy, see Custance, Adm. 

Naval terms, meaning of certain, 
9-1 1 

Navy and the Nation, The, J. R. 
Thursfield, 109 

Nelson, Horatio, Lord, the anni- 
versary of Trafalgar and its 
meaning, 1-6 ; battle of Tra- 
falgar and the Nelson touch, 7, 
71 ; the problem stated, and 
how to solve it, 13, 14, 73 ; 
Collingwood and the memor- 
andum, 15, 17-21 ; a lifelong 
student of naval tactics, 16 ; 
and Lady Hamilton, 16, 17, 89- 
102, 107 ; text of his memor- 
andum, 22-25 » its probable 
origin, 27-32 ; its examina- 
tion in detail, 33-42 ; the 
powers given to the second 
in command, 35, 36, 40 ; his 
action at St. Vincent without 
orders, 37 ; the advanced 
squadron at Trafalgar, 38, 39, 
43-46 ; the order of sailing, 46, 
47 ; death and dying words, 
48, 72, 81, 122, 123, 129, 131 ; 
progress of the advance, 50-55 ; 
the attack, 56-64 ; the weather 
line, 65, 66 ; his object, 67 ; the 
conclusion, 69-72 ; his con- 
fidence in his officers, 74, 75 ; 
the evidence considered, 75-81 ; 
his Life by Captain Mahan and 
Southey, 82 ; his unique gifts, 
85, 86 ; his loves and marriage, 
88-92, 94 ; his conduct and 
mistakes at Naples, 93-102 ; 
his portrait, 96 n ; his dis- 
obedience of Lord Keith, 102- 
106 ; " the fleet in being," 108, 
109, 112-114; the siege of 
Calvi, no, in; and Villeneuve, 
114-119, 140, 141, 370; the 
great lesson, 117-118 ; his 
secret, 120 ; his uniqueness, 
120-122 ; his many qualities, 
124-126, 164 ; eminently hu- 
man, 127, 128 ; his loving- 
kindness, courage, and thought- 
fulness, 128-132 ; his rescue of 
Hardy, 129 ; wounded at 
Teneriffe, 129 ; and Sir R. 
Calder, 130, 131 ; the object of 
a naval commander, 134 ; and 
Admiral Duncan, 136 ; Lady 



Spencer's letter to, 146 ; and 
Hotham, 151, 152 ; his signal 
256 n ; and Napoleon, 349 

Nelson, Lady, see Nisbet, Mrs. 

Nelson, Dispatches and Letters of 
Lord, see Nicolas 

Nelson, The Life of, see Mahan, 

Nelson, The Life of, sec Southcy 

Neptune, British ship of the line, 
at Trafalgar, 46, 47, 70 

Neutral craft, Duties of, 277 

Newbolt, Henry, Year of Trafalgar, 
2, 20, 22 ; the order of sailing, 
46, 47 ; plan of the battle, 52, 
60, 62, 63, 73 ; on Admiral Dun- 
can, 155 

Nicolas, Sir N. H., Dispatches 
and Letters of Lord Nelson, 13, 
52, 60 

Nisbet, Mrs., her marriage to 
Nelson, 89, 90, 94 ; and Lady 
Hamilton, 91 

Norfolk, town in America, burning 
of, 193 

North, Lord, on Sir Charles 
Hardy, 142 

Northesk, Rear-Admiral Lord, 47 

Onslow, Vice-Admiral, at the 

Texel, 155 ; at the battle of 

Camperdown, 161 
Orel, Russian battleship, Dogger 

Bank incident, 259 
Orion, British ship of the line, 

at Trafalgar, 44, 46, 66 

Palermo, Nelson at, 100 

Pallas, American frigate, the raid 

in British waters, 208, 214, 228 ; 

the voyage to the Texel, 229, 

231, 240 
Parker, Admiral Sir Hyde, 103, 153 
Pasley, Sir Thomas C, on Nelson's 

plan at Trafalgar, 19, 20 
Passaro, Battle of Cape, 97 
Paul, John, see Jones, Paul 
Pearson, Richard, British Captain 

of the frigate Serapis, cap- 
tured by Paul Jones, 172 ; the 

fight, 216-229 
Pigott, British Admiral, 254 
Pitt, William, his resignation, 

145 ; on Admiral Duncan, 154 
Pitt, William, the younger, 

on the battle of Trafalgar, 4 ; 

anecdote of, 106, 107 
Plymouth, its position in war, 281 

Polyphemus, British ship of the 

line, at Trafalgar, 46, 63 
Portsmouth, its position in war, 281 
Position, strategy of, 279-301 
Potemkin, Prince, and Paul J ones, 

Prince, British ship of the line, 

at Trafalgar, 46, 47, 63 
Prince of Wales, British ship of 

the line, Calder's flagship, 131 
Privateering, 315, 316, 329 
Providence, American sloop of war, 


Put down or up the helm, meaning 
of, 9 

Quarterly Review, The Life of 
Nelson, 82 ; Duncan, 133 

Ranger, American warship, under 
command of Paul Jones, carries 
dispatches to France, 197 ; 
captures the British Drake, 
202-204 ; the first American 
flag, 228 n 

Redoutable, French ship of the 
line, at Trafalgar, 64 ; cause of 
Nelson's death, 72 

Reid, Mr. Whitelaw, American 
Ambassador, 301 

Revenge, British ship of the line, 
at Trafalgar, 46, 63, 75 

Richard, Bon Homme, American 
flagship under Commodore Paul 
Jones, 206, 207 ; collision with 
the Alliance, 210 ; her cruise, 
213 ; her fight with and capture 
of the Serapis, 215-228 

Riemersma, Commodore, 233 

Robespierre, Francois Maximilian, 
and Villaret, 151 

Rodney, Admiral, Lord, and Dc 
Guichen, 29 ; action off 
Dominica, 30-32 ; his tactical 
methods, 125 ; action off Cape 
St. Vincent, 136 ; the defeat of 
Count de Grasse, 163, 164, 248, 
255. 256 

Rosebery, Lord, on Trafalgar, 4 ; 
on Nelson, 120, 127 ; on Lady 
Hamilton, 122 

Royal Sovereign, British ship of the 
line, Collingwood's flagship at 
Trafalgar, 19 n, 46, 51-53. 5 8 » 
62, 63 

Rozhdestvensky, Russian Admiral, 
the Dogger Bank incident, 



Russia, her fleet, 149 ; Paul Jones 
appointed a Vice -Admiral, 243, 
244 ; the Dogger Bank incident, 
258-278,286,287; her position 
in war, 285, 288, 367, 368 ; 
maritime commerce, 303, 304 

Sailing large, meaning of, 9 

Sailing ships, their possible tacks, 
7-1 1 

St. Mary's Isle, Paul Jones lands 
at, 200, 201 

St. Vincent, Lord, see Jervis 

Saltonstall, Captain Dudley, 192 

Sampson, American Admiral, his 
views on the feeling between 
America and England, 298, 299, 
the Cuban war, 298, 355 

Sappho, H.M.S., her captures in 
the manoeuvres, 333, 334 

Scylla, H.M.S., her captures in the 
manoeuvres, 333, 334 

Seahorse, British warship, at 
Teneriffe, 129, 131 

Selkirk, Lady, and Paul Jones, 179, 
181, 201 

Serapis, British frigate, 171, 196, 
208 ; description of her fight with 
and capture by Paul Jones, 210- 
229 ; her fate after capture, 

231-233. 237. 239 
Sicilies, The Two, see Naples 
Signals, Nelson's book of, 24 n ; 

French system of, 248, 254 
Sluys, The battle, result of, 358 
Soundings, The, 140, 141 
Southey, Robert, Life of Nelson, 
18, 26, 82, 83, 135 ; on death of 
Nelson, 123 
Spain, battle of Gravelines, 2, 
119 ; the Armada, 109, 364 ; 
her fleet unites with that of 
France in the English Channel, 
I 37» *39 \ war with England, 
212 ; the strategy of position, 
286 ; the Cuban war, 304, 354, 


Spencer, 2nd Earl, First Lord of 
the Admiralty, letters from 
Nelson, 99, 101 ; his great 
services, 145-147 ; and Ad- 
miral Duncan, 148 

Strategy of position on the sea, 

Stuart, General, siege of Calvi, no 
Superb, British ship of the line, 

her slow sailing powers, 130 
Suvaroff, Russian battleship, the 

Dogger Bank incident, 258, 

Suwaroff, Alexander Vassilovick, 

Russian Field-Marshal, and 

Paul Jones, 172, 244 
Swiftsure, British ship of the line, 

at Trafalgar, 46, 63 

Tacking of sailing ships, 8-1 1 

Tatnall, Commodore, 298 

Timer aire, British ship of the line, 

at Trafalgar, 46, 47, 66, 67, 70 
Teneriffe, Nelson at, 129 
Texel, The, Admiral Duncan's 

blockade of, 148, 151, 155 ; 

Paul Jones at, 230-232, 241- 

Thackeray, W. M., The Virginians, 

178, 181 
Theseus, Nelson's flagship at 

Teneriffe, 129 
Thursfield, J. R., The Navy and 

the Nation, 109 
Times, The, Anniversary of 

Trafalgar, 1-6 ; Trafalgar and 

the Nelson Touch, 7-1 1 ; The 

Tactics of Trafalgar, 12-14 '> 

the Nelson Memorandum, 33- 

42 ; the advance and attack, 

43-81 ; the secret of Nelson, 

120-132 ; manoeuvres, 272, 337, 
Togo, Japanese Admiral, capital 

ships and cruisers, 291 ; his 

tactics, 318, 349 
Tone, Wolfe, 157, 158 
Tonnant, British ship of the line, 

at Trafalgar, 46, 63 
Torpedo craft, rationale of attack, 

276 ; in attack and defence of 

commerce, 326, 330 
Torrington, 1st Viscount, Rear- 

Admiral ; fleet in being, 108 ; 

his strategy, in, 113, 116, 139, 

140, 150 
Trade routes, 310, 311 
Trafalgar, Battle of, see Nelson 
Trollope, Captain, battle of Cam- 

perdown, 161, 162 

Ulm, Capture of, 121 
United Service Magazine, The 
Strategy of Position, 279 

Venerable, Admiral Duncan's flag- 
ship, 154 ; the Texel, 155-157 ; 
battle of Camperdown, 161, 166, 

Vengeance, American frigate, 214, 



227, 228 ; at the Texel, 230 ; 
handed over to the French, 240 

Victory, British hundred-gun ship, 
Nelson's flagship at Trafalgar, 
her log, 11, 51, 58, 59, 65 ; 
order of sailing, 46-49, 53, 65- 
67, 70, 131 

Villaret de Joyeuse, Louis Thomas, 
French Admiral, his tactics on 
the First of June, 151, 152 

Villeneuve, French Admiral, and 
Nelson, 16, 42, 48, 118, 119; 
his signals, 51 n; the battle of 
Trafalgar, 52, 70, 72 ; and 
Nelson in the West Indies, 112, 
114-116; unceasingly hunted 
by Nelson, 122, 350, 370 

Vladivostock, 304 

Walcheren expedition, 127 

Walpole, Horace, on Gerard 
Hamilton's speech, 133 ; on 
Paul Jones's letter, 236 

War, The object of, 346, 347 

Washington, General, 179, 180- 
182, 196, 235 ; his opinion of 
Paul Jones, 188 ; and De 
Grasse, 252 

Wellington, Duke of, his opinion 
of Nelson, 124, 128, 246 

Whitehaven, Paul Jones's attack 
on, 199 ; consternation at, 204 

Wind, effect on sailing ships ex- 
plained, 8, 9 ; and the course, 49 

Wolseley, 1st Viscount, on the 
modern army, 354 

Yorke, Sir Joseph, British Am- 
bassador at The Hague, and 
Paul Jones, 232-238, 241, 242 

Printed by Haaell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury 

Thnrsfield, (Sir) James 

Nelson and other naval